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Incident Name:  Coyote Fire, Los Padres NF
Date: Thursday, 9/24/64
Personnel: John L. Patterson, Sr. of Yreka and Klamath NF
Age: 51
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service
Position: firefighter

Summary: On the afternoon of Tuesday September 22, 1964, the Coyote Fire was ignited by a faulty car exaust system on the Santa Barbara city boundary, in the grass just below Mountain Drive. The fire was not picked up on initial attack. That night the 45 mph Santa Ana winds fanned the flames which moved into the timber. By late Thursday the fire had grown to 35,000 acres and had 2,000 firefighters fighting it. Fire behavior and winds were extreme. A number of crews were trapped by flames, terrain and wind in different locations. Four men from the Klamath National Forest were overrun at the Romero Saddle. Three survived, but John Patterson perished.

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Maps

Romero Saddle, Los Padres NF

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Incident not in the Lessons Learned Database.
  • USFS Fallen Heroes Memorial website: John L. Patterson, Sr.
  • California Death Index: John L Patterson
  • Coyote Fire: Sept 22 - Oct 1, 1964

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009 | Online Article

    Excerpt: ....... At Romero Saddle the flames pour in from three sides, trapping four of the firemen from Yreka as they hack out a fire line nearby. Before they can run, it is on them, the flames drifting across the dirt road which is their only hope of escape.

    Three of the men fling themselves in the dirt below the road. But the fourth, John Patterson, hesitates, then yells at the others, “Come on! We can make it this way,” he shouts as he starts up the road.

    “Stop!” yells one of the others, Dave Alberts. But Patterson runs on.

    For a half hour the other three men grovel in the dirt, covering themselves up with it the best they can. Patterson is 400 feet away, dead.

    “He panicked,” Alberts says later,

    No, he was an experienced fire fighter,” says Blain Alpheus, one of the others there, adding a chilling thought. “He might have gotten out. And we might have had it. He could’ve been right.

    “If he had been maybe 200 feet further, he might’ve been able to run through the flames and get out.”

    Alpheus continues, “He yelled at me, ‘come on, we can make it this way.’

    “That’s when I hit the dirt in that bank. I looked up and saw him run. All around him there was nothing but flame. Then he was gone. We must’ve missed death by about a second. There was one mass of terribly hot fire moving towards us. It was so hot you couldn’t see or breathe. Then the wind shifted, and a little air came in.

    “When it passed, my hard hat was so hot it blistered my fingers when I picked it up.

    The wind shift that saves the three men apparently doesn’t help Patterson, who stumbles, loses his hat, then runs 30 more yards before falling once more, the flames burning all his clothes off.

    Caprice—a word often used to explain how some houses are burned, while others are saved, apparently claims Patterson’s life while sparing those of the others..... (Read the whole story at the link...)

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John Patterson, Sr John Patterson, Sr
John Patterson, Sr John Patterson, Sr

 

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Contributors to this article:  Rick Messier, Mellie

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