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Incident Name: Sundance Fire, Kaniksu National Forest, east of Coolin, ID (Kaniksu NF is now one of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests)
Date:  09/01/1967, approximately 1801 hrs
Personnel:  2 Lives Lost
Age:
Agency/Organization: Idaho Department of Lands, US Forest Service, Oliver and Oliver Logging Company
Position: firefighters

Summary:

Luther P Rodarte, Age 36, Asst Fire Control Officer, Los Padres NF/Santa Maria RD
Lee Collins, Age 53, Bulldozer Operator, Oliver and Oliver Logging Co, Thompson Falls, MT

The Sundance fire started on August 23 and was being managed by the Priest Creek Timber Protection Association. On August 31 the fire was transitioned to a Forest Service Team. For an unknown reason, the radios that had been ordered by the Team were delayed for an extra 24 hours. On September 1st, Sector Boss Lu Rodarte was briefed and able to scout the area by air, before being dropped at his sector. Working with him was Lee Collins operating a dozer; this was their only transportation, Rodarte did not have a vehicle. At about 1600 hrs an updated weather forecast was relayed to ICP, but since Rodarte and Collins didn't have radios, they did not receive that information. The fire experienced sudden gusts of up to 60 mph, and the fire moved where they did not expect; the 2 firefighters tried to use their escape routes, but never made it to their safety zone. The area was inaccessible, and the bodies were not recovered for 2 days; Rodarte and Collins were found underneath the dozer, neither had fire shelters.

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Maps

Accident Site (approximate), Kaniksu National Forest, east of Coolin, ID; Sundance Mountain is in the vacinity; Kaniksu NF is now one of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • The Lost Summer

    08/14/2002 Online article

    excerpt: It was a summer like no other; a summer like every other. Snowy winter. Wet spring. Hot, dry July. Windy, parched August. Fire. It was the summer when all eyes were on North Idaho. It was 1967, and it was the year North Idaho burned.

    “It seemed like a long, wet spring,” recalled Bill Stockman, “that suddenly dried up.” Stockman, age 74, worked on the Bonners Ferry Ranger District of the Kaniksu National Forest 35 years ago. During an interview this past spring he vividly recounted how the woods heated up, dried out, then burned with a ferocity seldom seen anywhere.

    The result is well known today as the Sundance Fire. But it wasn’t alone. Lightning pounded the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains from mid-July until late August 1967, causing dozens of forest fires. Most were extinguished by a burgeoning firefighting force before they could escape and grow; some weren’t. By late August thousands of firefighters from across the country had converged on Bonner and Boundary counties to battle the fiercest blazes in the nation.
    (Read the rest at the link above to find out how the lookout survived.) Short version by the same author.

  • Wild Life In A Room With A View - Story about Randy Langston (age 18) who was a Fire Lookout in 1967 during the Sundance conflagration

    6/3/68 | Online article

    excerpt: Forest fires seldom endanger lookouts, and if a fire should threaten a station there usually is ample time to beat a retreat. But not always. The Sundance fire in Idaho last summer proved an exception for 18-year-old Randy Langston. Stationed on 7,264-foot Roman Nose Peak, Randy had been keeping an eye on the fire, which had been burning fitfully for several weeks. On the evening of September 1 the fire was about 15 miles and a mountain range away from the Roman Nose lookout. Then, in a matter of hours, a 60-mph wind whipped the Sundance blaze into one of the worst in Idaho's smoky history. In a single day the fire made a run of 21 miles, eventually threatening towns, farms and homes along a 30-mile front. At its peak it burned one square mile of mature timber every three minutes, and its smoke column rose to a height of 45,000 feet. Trapped in the middle of this inferno, Randy continued to make his radio reports until it became evident that the fire was going to sweep right over his tower. He was ordered to take his radio and try to find shelter in the rocks below the station. The young lookout scrambled down to a rock slide, where he spent the night surrounded by a violent fire storm. The following morning a helicopter picked him up and flew him to safety. He was a bit shaken, but un-singed.

    And the lookout tower? Well, it survived, too. It stands now as a lonely and useless sentinel over 51,000 charred acres that last year at this time made up one of the most beautiful forest areas in Idaho.

  • NPS Fire History: A Test of Adversity and Strength: Wildland Fire by Hal K Rothman (2006) (3.74 MB pdf) and full length book of NPS history of fire by Rothman: Blazing Heritage

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Bridge on the Sundance Fire Bridge on the Sundance Fire

Dozer on the Sundance Fire Dozer on the Sundance Fire


Los Padres Employees and Los Compadres ----

Please see Mary Blair's message below regarding the upcoming California
Firefighters Memorial ceremony at which former Los Padres NF firefighter Lu
Rodarte will be honored. Mary is from Santa Paula, knows the Rodarte
family, and helped to ensure that Lu will be honored.

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message from Mary Blair forwarded by Kathy Good in 2007:

Luther Rodarte's name will be added to the California Firefighters Memorial
in a ceremony on September 29, 2007 at Sacramento's State Capitol Park,
adjoining the California State Capitol. The Firefighter Procession starts
at 11:15a.m., and the ceremony at 11:30a.m. Lu's daughter Catherine, who
now lives in Santa Maria, will be presented with an American flag. The
five Esparanza Fire victims will be honored along with Patrick Cooney,
Forest Service retiree and OES employee.

Luther was from Santa Paula and worked in fire on both the Ojai and Santa
Lucia ranger districts. He died on September 1, 1967, while working as a
Fire Sector Boss on the Sundance Fire on the Kootenai National Forest in
Idaho. He was overcome by flames when high winds whipped the blaze out of
control as he was attempting to lead a bulldozer operator out of the area.
A second person also died.

There are many retirees out there who remember Lu, some even worked
directly for him. Please share this information with anyone you think
would be interested.

Origin of Sundance Fire, Sundance Mountain Lookout and Memorial sites in Idaho.

Sundance Fire Origin Sundance Fire Origin

Sundance Fire Memorial Sundance Fire Memorial

  • The Lost summer: The Sundance Fire Remembered

    8/14/2002 | Online Article

    "It seemed like the world was on fire." Revisiting the Sundance Fire of 1967

    It was a summer like no other; a summer like every other. Snowy winter. Wet spring. Hot, dry July. Windy, parched August. Fire.

    It was the summer when all eyes were on North Idaho.

    It was 1967, and it was the year North Idaho burned.

    “It seemed like a long, wet spring,” recalled Bill Stockman, “that suddenly dried up.” Stockman, age 74, ... (more at the link)

  • Fallen Firefighters Remembered

    11/6/2012 | Online article

    CANYON CITY – A 1967 blaze like no other on Sundance Mountain in northern Idaho took the lives of two firefighters, Merle Lee Collins of Thompson Falls, Mont., a former Grant County resident, and Luther P. Rodarte of Santa Maria, Calif.

    Canyon City resident Kelly Collins, son of Lee Collins, was glad to see a memorial sign set up – 45 years later – in July to honor the two men.

    “I’m very proud of my father,” Collins said. The younger Collins was just 17 when his dad died at age 50. Lee Collins had been called out to the Sundance Fire, operating a bulldozer for a road contracting and logging company. The fire began Aug. 11, 1967, but went undetected for several days. ... (more at the link)

     

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Contributors to this article: Kent Maxwell, Old LPF, Mary Blair, Kathy Good, John Miller, Rene Vanderhooft, Mellie, Pam Aunan

 

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