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At approximately 1230 on June 25, 1990, a dry lightning storm triggered a fire beneath the Mogollon Rim about 10 miles northeast of Payson, Arizona. This area is located on the Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest. Conditions were such (high temperatures, low relative humidity, large accumulation of fuels, and several years of below normal precipitation) that the fire burned quickly, and within a matter of hours the Dude Fire had become a raging inferno. Before the fire was declared controlled 10 days later, over 24,000 acres had burned in 2 national forests, 63 homes were destroyed, and six firefighters were killed.
This initial rapid fire spread entrapped eleven firefighters, six of which perished. Dry fuels, complex topography, and strong winds directly contributed to the entrapment and to these fatalities. The fire continued to actively spread for another three days. Of the structures that were destroyed in this fire, the historic Zane Grey Cabin and Tonto Creek Fish hatchery were included. A total of $12 million in losses was incurred on the Dude Fire, which cost approximately $7,500,000 to suppress. Total forces/resources used to suppress the Dude Fire included 14 helicopters, 14 water tenders, 10 air tankers, 12 dozers, 61 fire crews ... a total of 2632 people. In addition, the fire forced the temporary evacuation of more than 1100 residents.
This tragic event inspired Paul Gleason to propose the LCES system L.C.E.S. (Lookouts, Communication, Escape Routes, Safety Zones), now a minimum safety standard for wildland firefighting. Other lessons learned from this incident that continue to influence fire suppression around the world today include knowledge about plume-dominated fire behavior, improved protocols for incident comand transfer, and implementation of refresher training for fire shelter use.
Dude Fire Staff Ride project team:
- Jennifer Adams - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Southwest Regional Office
- Julian Affuso - U.S. Forest Service - Lincoln National Forest
- Jim Cook - U.S. Forest Service - National Interagency Fire Center
- Travis Dotson - U.S. Forest Service - Southwest Regional Office
- Mark Kaib - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Southwest Regional Office
- Bequi Livingston - U.S. Forest Service - Southwest Regional Office
- Dave Mertz - U.S. Forest Service - Kaibab National Forest
- Kerri Mich - U.S. Forest Service - Southwest Regional Office
- Jim Scola - U.S. Forest Service - Gila National Forest
- Nina Walker - Bureau of Land Management - National Interagency Fire Center
- Chris Wilcox - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - New Mexico Fire Zone
Special thanks to the following individuals for their valuable insights and support regarding the finalization of the Dude Fire Staff Ride:
- LtCol Eric Carlson – U.S. Marine Corps (retired)
- Steve Dickenson – U.S. Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Coordination Center
- Dan Kleinman – U.S. Forest Service – Washington Office
- Andy Parker – Bureau of Land Management (retired)
- Fred Schoeffler – Pine-Strawberry Fire District
- Randy Skelton – U.S. Forest Service – Black Hills National Forest
- Dave Thomas – U.S. Forest Service (retired)
- Hank Walters – U.S. Forest Service (retired)
- Participants from the 2007 Southwest Area Staff Ride Workshop