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Incident Name: Sims or McKenzie Bridge, McKenzie Bridge Ranger District, Willamette National Forest
Date: September 6, 1935
Personnel: Melvin Claude Richardson
Age: 18
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service
Position: Oregon National Guard firefighter

Summary: Melvin Richardson, age 18, was a member of the Oregon National Guard, and one of the 40 initial Guard members recruited to fight the Sims or McKenzie Bridge Fire burning on the Willamette National Forest east of Eugene in 1935. He lost his life fighting the 2500-acre fire when he was hit by a burning, falling snag, which broke his neck.

The fire began on the Sims Ranch. This 5-day fire was one of the costly stand-replacing fires in Oregon. It could have been much worse but for the Forest Service, CCC, Oregon National Guard and local "gunnysack" firefighters and their organization into a large cohesive firefighting force. The "footprint of the fire" was described in the media as burning in green timber, 5 miles long and a mile wide in drought and low humidity conditions and pushed by an east wind (Santa Ana equivalent).

There's a Forest Service article (Ringside Seats by Radio, link below) discussing new radio communication between the fireline and news media stations in Eugene: the author discusses changes in technology of communication and how those will impact how we learn in real-time about what's happening on the fireline. The improvement in communication and the fast action in organizing many men were touted in the media as the reason the fire's extent and damage were mitigated.

 

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Maps

The former Sims Ranch is now the Tokatee Golf Course, West of McKenzie Bridge. McKenzie Bridge Ranger District, Willamette National Forest.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • From TimberLinesVol22.pdf page 63:

    Pat Thompson Forest Supervisor of the Willamette Forest was in charge of fighting the Sims Fire near McKenzie Bridge Ranger Station.

    Red Thomas was made sector boss over three CCC foremen.

  • Background Excerpt from the Environmental Assessment, Goose Project, June 2010 (large pdf download) describes the fire history of the area:

    1.2 - Background --
    The Goose project area has been shaped by wildfires and timber harvest over the past 100 years. Fire records show that there have been 4 large wildfires within the planning area (two Sims Ranch Fires, North McKenzie Fire, and South McKenzie Fire). Each wildfire produced stand replacing fire that resulted in stands with few residual trees. With no records to suggest otherwise, the fires are believed to have been regenerated naturally with predominantly Douglas fir. Many of these fire regenerated stands show no signs of active management since the stands regenerated; however, many of the stands do have residual stumps where either salvage logging or selective harvest took place over the last century.

  • Historic Photos:

    THEN: Sawing wood at the Sims Ranch----The former Sims Ranch is now the Tokatee Golf Course, West of McKenzie Bridge.

    NOW, or more recent than the first photo: Beautiful Tokatee Golf Course

  • Ringside Seats by Radio (62 K, 2 page pdf) by VF Horton, Forest Service Portland, OR
  • Melvin Richardson named as fallen
Melvin Richardson named as fallen Melvin Richardson named as fallen
  • Oregon Death Index: Melvin C Richardson
    • Name: Melvin Richardson
    • Event Type: Death
    • Event Date: 06 Sep 1935
    • Event Place: Lane, Oregon
    • Certificate Number: 406

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

  • Hotlist 7/24/2014: Oregon Fallen Firefighter Memorial
  • Melvin Claude Richardson - LODD September 6, 1935, McKenzie Bridge Fire: His name will be added on September 18, 2014 at 1 PM on the campus of the Oregon Public Safety Academy, 4190 Aumsville Highway SE, Salem

 

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Media Articles and Reports

 

Sims / McKenzie Bridge Fire Sims / McKenzie Bridge Fire
Sims / McKenzie Bridge Fire Sims / McKenzie Bridge Fire

 

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Oregon Department of Public Safety and Training

Melvin Claude Richardson - Oregon National Guard

BACKGROUND: On September 6, 1935, Melvin Claude Richardson was one of 40 initial National Guard fire fighters recruited to fight the McKenzie Bridge fire in the Willamette National Forest. The fire was rapidly growing and exceeded 2,500 acres. While working on the fire, Melvin stepped from behind a tree and was struck by a falling snag that was on fire which broke his neck and killed him upon impact. He was 18 years old at the time of his death. DPSST was contacted by Nancy Farrar, second cousin to Melvin Claude Richardson, who recalled as a child the traumatic loss and the overwhelming impact to the family. He was an only child, therefore, it was a tremendous loss to his family. Nancy began the process of researching his death and presented the information to DPSST staff. She has requested he be added to the Oregon Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial Wall in hopes of bringing closure and honor to her cousin after all these years.

 

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Contributors to this article: Mellie, Lessons Learned Center, Nancy Farrar (Melvin's cousin) who researched his death which led to him being named as the firefighter who died, tech672

 

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