Indian Fire - 1980

Firefighter dies; Indian Fire nearly controlled

  • December 2, 1980
    Dean Forbes, Orange County Register

    The first death of a firefighter believed the result of Southern California’s latest siege of fire was reported Monday as the last flames in eastern Orange County’s Indian Fire were stamped out.

    “All areas are cool at this time,” Chuck Murphy, Orange County Fire DepartmentIndian Fire Mapspokesman, said late Monday. However, officials refused to classify the 28,200 acre brush fire as fully contained or controlled until firefighters ring the blackened, two-county area with the fire lines.

    Containment was expected at 6 PM today.

    Tragedy marred the good news with the death of Steven Johnson, a 33-year-old Mapleton, Ore. employee of the U.S. Forest Service. He suffered cardiac arrest Sunday and died early Monday, officials said.

    Johnson had been working the Indian Fire for four days when he complained of headaches Sunday night and was taken to Mission Valley Medical Center in Lake Elsinore, officials said. There, doctors decided he should be seen by his personal physician. As Johnson walked through the boarding gates to a waiting forest service plane at Ontario International Airport, he collapsed, officials said.

    San Bernardino County Deputy Coroner Phil Alexander said an autopsy would be performed by said he suspected a cerebral hemorrhage caused Johnson’s death. Johnson died at San Antonio Community Hospital in Upland early Monday morning.

    Johnson had passed the forest service’s physical examination, given to all firefighters before the beginning of every fire season, “with flying colors,” said spokesman Mike Mortenson.

    Although the cause of the fire is arson, Riverside County fire investigators refused to give further details Monday, saying they didn’t want to jeopardize their investigation. “We’ve eliminated all natural causes,” said investigator Jack Bartlett.

    The blaze broke out alongside the Indian Truck Trail near its junction with the 71 (Corona) Freeway, Bartlett said.

    Murphy said thick brush was hampering hand crews trying to cut a protective line around one unburned 1200 acre area in the Cleveland National Forest. As an indication the fire activity was reduced greatly Monday in the only Southland fire still out of control, most of the more than 2000 men and women who fought the 8-day-old Indian Fire got some rest Monday night and some were expected to be sent home beginning today, said Murphy.

    Only 18 firefighters manning four engines and a water tanker remained on the line Monday night, he said.

Images from the Indian Fire

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