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Incident Name:  Elizabeth Fire, Angeles National Forest
Date:  July 15, 1981
Personnel:  Gilbert Lopez
Age: 43
Agency/Organization:  US Forest Service
Position: Engine Foreman

Summary: Engine Foreman Gilbert Lopez and his inexperienced four-person engine crew responded to the Elizabeth Fire through a burned area, positioned the engine facing the black, and attacked one of two spotfires. As they began to attack a second spotfire, they lost direct visual contact with the fire on the other side of the ridge. The fire got worse, The crew and the foreman lost communication. All retreated. The crew escaped west toward a local volunteer fire department position, not using the same escape route to the east that the foreman and the engine took. Crewmembers were safe but injured, and subsequently left the fireground unknown to Lopez. After getting to safety in the burned over area, Gilbert Lopez returned to look for his departed crew. He was overtaken by fire and died.

 

Gilbert Lopez on Sage Fire on right, 1979 Gilbert Lopez on Sage Fire on right, 1979
Gilbert Lopez on right, 1979 Gilbert Lopez on right, 1979
Gilbert Lopez Engine 3-10 out of Green Valley Gilbert Lopez Engine 3-10 out of Green Valley

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Maps

 

Near a microwave tower, along a ridgetop truck trail (sketched map with report, but exact location is unclear)

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • REPORT & Communication (365 K pdf): To all fire crew supervisors from the Regional Forester Zane A Smith and Ten Standard Firefighting Orders and Their Apparent Application in Connection with the July 15 Fatality -- Elizabeth Fire -- Angeles National Forest
  • California Death Index for his age: Gilbert Lopez
  • USFS: USFS Heroes Memorial List
  • USFA Memorial Database: Gilbert Lopez

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

  • Wildland Firefighters' Monuments and Memorial Sites
  • They Said It: 2010/7/15: Memorial poem
    July 15

    Elizabeth Fire.

    Gilbert Lopez falls in fear.

    "Did I kill my crew?"

    Instructions mistook.

    "Let's get out of here!" But where?

    Abandoned? They ran.

    A tunnel of fire.

    Voices shouting "Safety here!"

    Escape successful!

    He went to find them.

    Two breaths, six steps, destiny

    Can he see us now?

    -- no name please

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Media Articles and Reports.

Gilbert Lopez named as fallen Gilbert Lopez named as fallen

 

 

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Memorial Plaque ANF reads: Gilbert Lopez Memorial Grove: Engine Foreman for the US Forest Service gave his life protecting the national forest on the Elizabeth Fire, July 15, 1981. (The photo was taken in Sept 2005. If you're the photographer, thanks, and please let us know who you are.)

Gilbert Lopez Memorial Grove Gilbert Lopez Memorial Grove
Gilbert Lopez Memorial Plaque Gilbert Lopez Memorial Plaque

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Contributors to this article: John E. Hunter who worked with Gilbert's son on Chantry Helitack (ANF) in 1982; Carol Hensen, William Pierce, John Miller, Rene Vanderhooft

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