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Incident Name: Romero Fire, Los Padres National Forest
Date:  10/07/1971, approximately 2100 hrs
Personnel: 4 Lives Lost
Age:   Varies
Agency/Organization:  US Forest Service
Position: Firefighters

Summary:

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.

 

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Accident Site (approximate)

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • 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.
    • Sundowner Wind Forces Sundowner Wind Forces
      Sundowner on Romero Sundowner on Romero
    • 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. On-shore Winds on Romero On-shore Winds on Romero
    • 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. Sundowner Winds on Romero Sundowner Winds on Romero
    • 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.

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • Four Wildland Firefighters Killed:
4 firefighters killed 4 firefighters killed

 

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