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Incident Name: Woodwardia Incident, Big Tujunga Canyon. Angles National Forest
Date: 10/16/1959
Personnel: Leo Poblano from the Zuni Nation in NM
Age: 50
Agency/Organization: BIA crew working with the US Forest Service; unknown airtanker owner contracted with the Forest Service.
Position: Zuni firefighter

Summary: Leo Poblano, 50, a Zuni Indian from Zuni, NM was killed when an airtanker plane accidently dropped a load of firefighting chemicals on him and four other Zuni firefighters. Leo Poblano fell down a cliff and died. The other four were injured. The death of another Zuni firefighter two days later -- Phillip Chavez, who reportedly became ill and died two days later -- was also attributable to this accidental retardant drop.


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hot spot location: mountain saddle between Josephine Peak and Strawberry Peak, Angeles National Forest

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center: Retardant Drop Record:

    Leo Poblano and another firefighter Leo Poblano and another firefighter

  • Leo Poblano named as fallen:

    Leo Poblano Leo Poblano

  • NWCG very brief line item from Historical Wildland Firefighter Deaths 1910 to 1996:
    • Year: 1959
    • Name/Location: Woodwardia Fire, CA
    • Fatalities: 2
    • Agency: Unknown
    • Fire Behavior: Unknown
    • Remarks: Airtanker dropped killing Native American crew members.
  • California Death Index: Leo Poblano

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Milwaukee Sentinel Oct 15, 1959: Brush Fire Rages Out of Control in California

    The fire over 2,000 acres and out of control along all of its 25-mile perimeter, centered in an isolated wilderness area accessible only by air and to men on foot. It was driven by erratic wind gusts up to 35 mph. The tenmperature was over 90 degrees.

    The fire broke out at noon on Tuesday (10/13/1959) beside Angeles Crest highway which links Los Angeles with the Mojave desert. Investigators think it was from a carelessly thrown cigarette.

    Whipped by hot dry winds, it spread swiftly through the San Gabriel Mountains 15 mi north of downtown LA.

    More than 1000 men, including Indian experts flown from Arizona and New Mexico, were on the lines. Fifteen tanker planes dropped fire-retarding borate solution on hot spots...

  • Followup article on Nov 14, 1959 in the Pasadena Independent in which the alledged firestarter was arraigned in Pasadena Municipal Court on a charge of setting the Woodwardia forest fire that cost more than $1,278,000.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes




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Contributors to this article: Lessons Learned Center, Mellie


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