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Incident Name:
Date: 5/29/1986
Personnel: Michael Lehman
Age: 50
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service, Ochoco National Forest
Position: firefighter, Fire Management Officer for Snow Mountain District, Ochoco National Forest

Summary: Forest Service Firefighter Michael Lehman died of natural causes on 5/29/1986 near Pole Camp, Harney County, Oregon. Lehman was returning to Hines OR from a meeting in Prineville with a stop to check on a prescribed fire burning in a wooded area near Snow Mountain. He never arrived at the fire. When Lehman did not return by 2300 hours, a search was begun. At 0215 (5/30), his body was found draped over a log approximately 75 yards from his Forest Service pickup. It was speculated that for some unknown reason Lehman, who was known to be curious, had stopped, perhaps to get a closer look at something. The pathologist said that Lehman had evidently fainted and struck his head on the log. The log cut off his breath and he suffocated.


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in Harney County near the Crook County border on Road 4380; Pole Camp Area

Harney County, near Crook County, Oregon, estimate

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Oregon Death Index: Michael Allen Lehman
  • US Social Security Death Index: Michael Lehman
  • two newspaper entries from the editor at following an inquiry
    • from the June 4, 1986 bound edition of the Burns Times Herald, posted with permission:

      A Forest Service worker was found dead Thursday in a wooded area near Snow Mountain. He had been picnicking nearby with his family just a few days before.

      50-year-old Michael A. Lehman of Hines apparently died of natural causes, according to Dr. John Weare, Harney County’s medical examiner. The precise cause of death is still undetermined.

      Lehman’s body was found draped over a log about 75 yards off the road where his Forest Service pickup was parked, in Harney County near the Crook County border on Road 4380.

      Lehman, the Snow Mountain District’s fire management officer, had been returning from a meeting in Prineville, and was on his way to check on a prescribed fire in the Pole Camp area.

      “He was real curious,” said Fred Harnisch, the district ranger. “He probably saw something out there and went to get a closer look.”

      Lehman had been expected back from Prineville about 7 p.m. Wednesday. Traveling through the forest, he was in radio contact with the Snow Mountain District early in the evening. When he had not yet returned by 11 p.m., a search began. Approximately 24 searchers from the Forrest Service, harney County Sherriff’s department, and Burns Ambulance Department participated.

      Although there was a bruise on his forehead and the bridge of his nose where his head had hit the log, the autopsy showed no sign of brain damage, Weare said.

      Lehman’s widow, Laina, lives in Hines with her son Brett, who is 14. Another son, Mike, 24, lives in Las Vegas.

      Dr. George McGeary, a pathologist in Bend, is conducting a further investigation into the cause of death, but has as yet found nothing.

    • from the June 11, 1986 bound edition of the Burns Times Herald relating to the pathologist's report, posted with permission:

      A pathologist in Bend believes he has discovered what killed Mike Lehman, a 50-year old forest service worker found dead near Snow Mountain May 29.

      Dr. George McGeary said thet Lehman evidently fainted, and struck his head on a log. The log cut off Lehman’s breath, and he suffocated.

      Lehman was a fire management officer for the Snow Mountain District of the Ochoco National Forest, stationed in Hines. he had been returning from Prineville the evening of May 28, and headed up into the woods to check on a controlled fire then burning. He never made it there.

      For an unknown reason, he left his pickup, and went into the woods near Pole Camp, where he died.

      A search was called at 11 p.m. when he hadn’t yet arrived at the fire or at the Hines office. Searchers found his body about 75 yards from his truck at 2 a.m. May 29.

      Lehman is survived by his wife, Laina, and sons Mike, 24, and Brett, 14.

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Contributors to this article: Gordon Brooks who made the enquiry; Randy Parks, editor Burns Times Herald.


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