Incident Name: Romero Fire, Los Padres National Forest
Date: 10/07/1971, approximately 2100 hrs
Personnel: 4 Lives Lost
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service
Thomas H Klepperich, 34, USFS Tractor Boss, from the Inyo National Forest
Richard Lee Cumor, 26, USFS (assigned as a swamper), from the Inyo National Forest
Delbert Dale DeLoach, 26, USFS (assigned as a swamper), from the Inyo National Forest
Leonard Mineau, 43, contract dozer operator from Arroyo Grande
Injured, seriously burned:
Gerald Hotchkiss, FS contract dozer operator
Leonard Kaiser, FS contract dozer operator
The Romero Fire started in the late afternoon of October 6, it was partially on USFS and partially on Santa Barbara County land, a contract county; as a result, several fire districts were part of the initial attack. On the evening of October 7, a total of 3 dozers were being led by Tractor Boss Klepperich to finish constructing a portion of line during a change from the day shift to the night shift. The dozers were attempting to leave the area where they had been working when fire intensity picked up. One Dozer operator had his hands burned, and had to abandoned his machine. The 2 remaining dozers attempted to continue up the fuel break. Both dozers were overrun by the fire; the 2 men on the front dozer were critically burned, 2 USFS employees and the Dozer Operator on the rear dozer did not survive. A third USFS crewman died later.
Accident Site (approximate)
- Accident Investigation: Full Report (6.4 MB pdf)
- USDA Correspondence (regarding Safety Officer): Letters (261K pdf)
- Romero Fire Statistics (80 K pdf)
- Gary Ryan, 1991, Weather Service: Sundowner Winds
- Doug Campbell: CPS on the Romero Fire, 1972.
- Lessons Learned about fire behavior resulting from Sundowner Wind Forces
- The day shift plan was to work dozers on the south flank of the fire.
- The tactic would be safe as the fire was out of alignment with wind and slope on that flank.
- When a Sundowner was forecast, the wind would put the south flank of the fire in alignment with wind and overpower the negative slope.
- If the Sundowner should surface, continuing the tactics using the dozer attack would be wrong.
- The night Ops Chief attempted to extract the dozers as the danger was evident.
- What I learned was to assure the tactics were based on a forecast. If we had acted before the fire changed to a sundowner wind driven fire, we would have avoided the accident.
- 50 years, 1950-2000: Fire Safety Progression and Technology Advancement 1950-2000 (9 K pdf) (authorship unknown, presumed to be some part of a fed review; please inform us if you know which one)
After the Romero Fire in 1971, the Radio Cache Standards and Red Card Qualification System were introduced.
A national fire research, development, and applications program was established by the Forest Service in 1973.
- Romero Fire Fatality Case Study, Wildlandfire Lessons Learned Center YouTube (12 min) Published Apr 24, 2012
- Four Wildland Firefighters Killed:
- USFS Heroes Memorial: Richard Cumor | Dale DeLoach | Thomas Klepperich | Leonard Mineau
- Inyo NF, Mono Lake RD, CA: Located in June Lake at Oh!Ridge Campground, this memorial is dedicated to to Richard Cumor, Dale De Loach and Thomas Klepperich who were stationed on the Inyo NF and lost their lives on the Romero Fire, LPNF, 1971.
Contributors to this article: Doug Campbell, John Miller, Rene Vanderhooft, and many more of the wildlandfire.com community
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