© 2024 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
Listen | Discover | Engage a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rattlesnake Fire Kills 15 in Mendocino National Forest

On July 9, 1953, two dozen exhausted firefighters, including 14 volunteer missionaries, were resting after helping control the Rattlesnake Fire in the Grindstone Canyon of the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California.  Suddenly the wind changed, blowing sparks over a firebreak line, and sending flames roaring down the canyon in their direction.  Hunkered in a gully, they didn’t see what was happening.

About 10:15 p.m. another firefighter realized their situation and ran to them, shouting, “Get out as fast as you can.”  Fifteen of them fled downhill and the other nine clambered to the top of the ridge. After dawn, searchers found 15 bodies, one of a Forest Service employee and the others of the volunteers from the nearby New Tribes Mission. Those who ran uphill survived.

The fire burned more than 1,300 acres before being controlled on July 11, 1953. The fire had a major impact on wildland fire training, safety standards and weather awareness.  It also led to more reliance on helicopters and air tankers.

An arsonist seeking fire-camp employment, Stan Pattan, was convicted of starting the Rattlesnake Fire and sentenced to three years in jail.


Sources:  "Large Fires and Fatalities: Rattlesnake Fire." Fire and Aviation Management. National Park Service, Web. 19 Apr. 2016. https://www.nps.gov/fire/wildland-fire/learning-center/fireside-chats/history-timeline.cfm#text;  Rattlesnake Fire." Wikipedia. 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rattlesnake_Fire; "1953 07/09 CA 15-Fatality Rattlesnake." Always Remember. wlfalwaysremember.org, 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. http://wlfalwaysremember.org/home.html>.Ring, Ray, and John N. Maclean. "Some notable arson wildfire cases in the West." High Country News 2 Aug. 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.