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Incident Name: Rock Creek Fire, Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest
Date: 7/28/1939
Personnel: 5 lives lost
Age: 
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, CCC
Position: CCC firefighters

Summary: 

Members of Civilian Conservation Crew Company 1212, Camp Paradise (Camp F-5), Paradise Valley NV

George J. Kennedy of NY City
Walter James of Ridgewood, NY
Frank W. Barker of Brooklyn, NY
Ernest R. Tippin of Oswego, Kansas, a project assistant for Camp Paradise
Frank J. Vitale of Brooklyn, NY

A CCC Crew of 23 youths and a foreman was dispatched from Camp Paradise to the 8,000 acre sagebrush Rock Creek Fire in northern Nevada approximately 5 miles SE of Orovada. Of the 24 fighting fire on July 28, 1939 on the western slopes of the Santa Rosa Range, five youths were entrapped by fire and burned to death on account of a sudden strong thunderstorm creating downdraft winds of 40-60 mph. These downdrafts caused the fire to burn explosively downhill to the west between 1530 and 1600 hours. After it was over, one firefighter was found without his glasses a mile from the others and a second with a broken ankle was found a half-mile from the remaining three who were overrun close together in a line. It was the greatest loss of life by fire in Nevada history.

Hwy 95 Monument was established by the CCC and the FS in honor of the crewmembers of Company 1212 that were entrapped on the 1939 Rock Creek Fire. Monument is located in the middle of roadside rest stop just ½ mi South of Orovada on Highway 95, looking out on the rocky slope of the Santa Rosa Range. (The site is about 34 mi N of Winnemucca on Hwy 95).

Rock Creek Memorial to the CCC fallen Rock Creek Memorial to the CCC fallen
Rock Creek Plaque to the CCC fallen Rock Creek Plaque to the CCC fallen

The memorial plaque reads: Frank W. Barker, George J. Kennedy, Walter James, Earnest R. Tippin, Frank J. Vitale, Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1212 Paradise Camp F-5, Who gave their lives for the conservation of Nevada's natural resources while fighting fire about three miles east of this point on July 29, 1939.

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Maps

Entrapment location

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Rock Creek Staff Ride
  • Documents and Publications
  • Historical Photos
  • From the staff ride:
    "Lessons learned from the Rock Creek Fire played a role in the development of the first formal tactical training for fire fighting crews; created an early recognition regarding the importance of physical fitness; and was the first time a fire qualification and experience system was recommended."
  • 2005 Safety Refresher (1.4 MB pdf) is one example of how this incident has been incorporated into training; the Staff Ride is another.

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

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Media Articles and Reports

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

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Contributors to this article: Winslet, Pyro

 

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