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Local Staff Ride Archive

Staff Ride to the Rock Creek Fire

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On July 28, 1939, flames overran crewmen from Paradise Camp F-5, Company 1212, a Civilian Conservation Corp Firefighting Crew, as they retreated from a fire in steep rugged terrain on the Toiyabe National Forest and Winnemucca District-Division of Grazing lands. The fire occurred in Northern Nevada near the small community of Orovada.

The crew divided into two squads near the opening of Rock Creek. One squad made their approach to the fire from the north and the other squad made their approach from the west. As the squads closed in on the fire, a sudden violent shift of the winds caused an extreme down hill run toward the squad hiking in from the west. Within minutes the flames raced down the slopes and drainages engulfing five firefighters as they attempted to escape to safety.

Since 1939, the Rock Creek Fire remains the costliest human disaster in Humboldt County history. The Rock Creek Fire was also the first recorded firefighting fatality occurring in sagebrush fuel type. Much of the knowledge gained about wildland fire has come through the high cost of human lives. Lessons learned from the Rock Creek Fire played a role in the development of the first formal tactical training for fire fighting crews; created an early recognition regarding the importance of physical fitness; and was the first time a fire qualification and experience system was recommended.

This Rock Creek Staff Ride resource is a product of the NWCG Leadership Committee. Project team members were:

  • Mike Bland - Bureau of Land Management - Winnemucca Field Office
  • Jim Cook - U.S. Forest Service - National Interagency Fire Center
  • Sue Curd - Bureau of Land Management - National Interagency Fire Center
  • Bob Kambitsch - Bureau of Land Management - National Interagency Fire Center
  • Susan Lincoln - Bureau of Land Management - Winnemucca Field Office
  • Ted Mason - Bureau of Land Management - National Interagency Fire Center
  • Stacy Odom - Bureau of Land Management - Winnemucca Field Office
  • Connie Tyler - Bureau of Land Management - Winnemucca Field Office
  • Nina Walker - Bureau of Land Management - National Interagency Fire Center
  • Mike Whalen - Bureau of Land Management - Winnemucca Field Office

Special thanks to the following individuals for their interviews and insights into the actions on the Rock Creek Fire:

  • Ron Cerri - Cooperating land owner
  • Raymond Gabica - Initial attack firefighter on the Rock Creek Fire
  • Kirk Studebaker - Initial attack firefighter on the Rock Creek Fire
  • Arlow Wolford - Daughter of Wilbur Timmons

Special thanks to the following individuals for their support on this project:

  • Donna Broome - National Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni Association
  • Dee Holzel - KWNA Radio of Winnemucca, Nevada
  • Tami Spero - Humbolt County Clerk