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As It Was: Burning Snag Falls, Pins Firefighter to Ground in 1953

A Forest Service employee who led pack trains in the Butte Falls region in 1953, Gordon Jesse Walker, liked to tell stories about fighting forest fires.  One of his favorites was about the harrowing experience of another smoke-chaser, Hal Von Stein.

Walker said the Forest Service sent Von Stein after a burning snag hit by lightning.  He found it quickly, tied his horse and mule nearby, and reported to his base station by radio that he could fell the snag in an hour and have the fire mopped up by dark.

Von Stein sawed nearly through the trunk and jumped clear when it began to fall, but slipped off its stump and fell backward. Von Stein ran, tripping over a rock, and the burning snag landed on his legs, pinning him to the ground.

Meanwhile, the burning top of the snag set nearby forest debris ablaze.

Von Stein freed one foot by pulling it out of his boot, but the other foot was stuck and began to burn.  Using sticks and rocks, he pulled his foot from the burning shoe, crawled to safety, and waited to be rescued.

Source: Walker, Gordon J. "Six Years With a Government Mule."  G.J. Walker, 1990.

Maryann Mason has taught history and English in the U.S. Midwest and Northwest, and Bolivia. She has written history spots for local public radio, interviewed mystery writers for RVTV Noir, and edited personal and family histories.  Her poetry has appeared in Sweet Annie & Sweet Pea Review (1999), Rain Magazine (2007), and The Third Reader, an online Journal of Literary Fiction and Poetry. In 2008 she published her first chapbook, Ravelings.  She organized a History Day for Southern Oregon.