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Incident Name:  Baliff Fire, origins in the State Resource Area but also burning on the San Bernardino NF
Date: October 30, 1967
Personnel: Frank Rios from the Tohono O’odham Nation in AZ
Age: 21
Agency/Organization: BIA crew from Sells AZ, a member of the Tohono O'Odham Nation (formerly Papago Tribe).
Position: firefighter

Summary: During a week of Santa Ana winds and multiple large fires throughout southern California, 200 Native American firefighters from Sells, AZ were flown in to help hundreds more firefighters fight the Baliff Fire on the San Bernardino NF. The fire had begun in a house near Cabazon in Riverside Co. Santa Anas were blowing and 24,000 acres burned in 36 hours. Frank Rios died on the night of 10/30 while battling the fire. The Baliff Fire flared up at night on a steep slope. Fellow firefighters last saw Rios poised on a big rock near Cabazon shortly before a sudden wind whistled down the eastern slope of Mt San Jacinto sent them scurrying from an advancing wall of flame.

Clyde Doran the Forest Supervisor of the Coronado NF near Rios' home in Arizona said that an autopsy showed Rios had suffered a fractured skull and was burned to death. He added that preliminary reports indicated Rios may have fallen while trying to escape a flare-up.

(Lessons Learned pdf)

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Incident Location

LLC database has (33.892242, -116.795717) as near the incident location

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Tuscon Daily Citizen, AZ, Wed, Nov 1, 1967:

    "The firefighter, Frank Rios, 21, was killed Monday night while battling a fire in San Bernadino National Forest, according to Clyde Doran, supervisor of the Coronado National Forest here. An autopsy showed Rios suffered a fractured skull and was burned to death, Doran said. Preliminary reports indicate he may have fallen while trying to escape a flare-up in the forest."

  • Press Telegram, Long Beach, Wed, Nov 1, 1967:

    "The third man was an Indian firefighter, Frank Rios, 21, flown to Riverside County from Sells, Ariz. Monday with 200 other men. Fellow firefighters said they last saw Rios poised on a big rock near Cabazon shortly before a sudden wind whistled down the eastern slope of Mt San Jacinto sent them scurrying from an advancing wall of flame."

  • "A Week of Wildfire in Southern California 1967" published by the State of California Resources Agency, Department of Conservation, Division of Forestry, 1968." It is a summary of the fire siege events throughout Southern California from Oct 14th - Nov 2, focusing on Oct 29 - Nov 2. It mentions the fire fatality: From October 29th, pg 4,

    "Also at four o'clock, or about that time, it is believed a couch in a powder house near Cabazon in Riverside County became ignited somehow. An hour and a half later the State Dispatcher was again committing heavy forces to this new fire, as was the U.S. Forest Service. Firefighters here and on Paseo Grande Fire found it difficult to stand in an upright position against the fierce blasts of wind.

    "This latest fire was named Bailiff and it ran wild until 6 o'clock of the evening of November 1st. During its approximate 36 hours of life, Bailiff Fire burned a total of nearly 24,000 acres. On the fireline 750 men were assigned, and of these 200 were Indian firefighters. There were 10 fire trucks and five bulldozers aided by six aircraft. Sixteen structures were damaged and there were numerous injuries. The sad toll, however, was death; a woman burned to death in her home near East Gilman and the fatal fall from a cliff of an Indian member of a Forest Service crew." (The crew was a BIA firefighting crew and not under working with the San Bernardino National Forest, FS.)

  • Wikipedia on Tribal Member Frank Rios and the effort to get his name included on the National Firefighters Memorial and the California Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

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  • They Said, December 20, 2006

    Wildland Firefighter Frank Rios was one of 200 hundred firefighters brought in from Region 3... At the time of the Bailiff Fire, numerous other fires were burning throughout Southern CA...

  • They Said, February 9, 2007

    2/9, Re: Wildland Firefighter Frank Rios, Bailiff Fire, October 1967. Through various means, I have been able to track Firefighter Rios' roots back to the Tohono O'Odham Nation in southern AZ...

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Media Articles and Reports



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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Website of the Tohono O'odham Nation
  • The Tohono O’odham Reservation is in southern Arizona - Sonoran Desert lands; pin in Wells, AZ
  • Wikipedia on the location of the Tohono O'odham people ; also, part of the tribe is in Sonoran Desert lands of northern Mexico.

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Contributors to this article: Reddgroom, Ken Kempter


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