AGENCY:
USDA Forest Service

HOME UNIT:
Angeles National Forest

ESTABLISHED:
1949

DISBANDED:
1984



Chilao Hotshots

 

1949 – first year of the Hotshot crew. Superintendent was Don Biedebach with a brand new crew camp at Chilao.

1950 – crew Superintendent was Ray Bond. The crew foremen were: Lynn R. Biddison, Lynn Newcomb, and Jim Dolan. Ralph Jehl was the Foremen on the engine. This was a 30-man crew with George Mc Nellis as the camp cook. 10 or 12 of the crew members were Navajo or Hopi Indians from the Sherman Institute in Riverside. The balance of the crew were regular hires.

At this time there were only 5 Hotshot Crews in the nation. Those crews were Chilao, Del Rosa, Laguna, Oak Grove and Los Prietos.

Both Chilao and Del Rosa were financed by special Los Angeles River funds. The funds were ear marked by Congress for use in the L.A. river drainage. As a result, Chilao and Oak Grove could not be off forest at the same time. The resulted in the rotation of off forest assignments.

1951 – crew Superintendent at the start of the year was Ray Bond. Early in the season Ray left and Lynn Biddison became the Supt. The crew consisted primarily of Indians from Taos, New Mexico. Pete Trujillo was part of this group. The crew foremen were: Jim Murphy, Ralph Jehl, and Tommy Brumfield.

1952 – this year was the beginning of a yearlong Hotshot crew at Chilao using San Quentin prisoners from the prison at Chino. The Forest Service paid the State of California prison authority $1.00 per day for each prisoner. The crew was a total of 30 inmates. In addition, there was an inmate kitchen crew at Chilao. The Forest Service had the responsibility of the inmates when we were out of camp working on fire breaks, trails, etc. In camp the state Corrections Officers were responsible for the inmates. On fires the Forest Service foremen were responsible for inmate security when we were on the line. In fire camp the Corrections Officers were responsible for inmate security. The Forest Service was supposed to count the inmates periodically when we were responsible for their security. We seldom did this and we never had an inmate escape.

The inmates became a very good Hotshot crew. They competed very well against Oak Grove, Del Rosa, Laguna, and Los Prietos. Del Rosa was the toughest competition as a good part of their crew came from the Chaffee College football team.

1953 – the yearlong inmate Hotshot crew continued. Lynn Biddison was Superintendent until September when he became Assistant Ranger / FCO (Fire Control Officer) on the Arroyo Seco District. Jim Murphy became the new crew Superintendent. The crew foremen were: Jerry Hayes, Ray Trygar, and Ted Gregg.

NOTE – It was about this time that the Hotshot crew size was standardized at 20 people (crew members) plus overhead. The 30-person crew size was a holdover from the C.C.C. days when their stake side trucks had bench seats that ran across the bed of the truck. The Hotshot crews had changed this to padded tool box seats along each side of the bed of the stake side truck and across the front. This new set up did not provide seating for more than 12-14 people per truck. The main reason though for reducing crew size to 20 people was to be able to put the crew and their gear on a Forest Service DC-3 or C-54. In those days the crews seldom flew to a fire, but it was starting to happen and the crew and their gear had to fit on the airplane.

1954 – this was the last year of the use of inmates for the Chilao Hotshot crew. The Superintendent was Bill Myrick. The crew foremen were: Jerry Hayes, Ray Trygar, and Jim Ruppelt.

NOTE – Ralph Johnston and Jim Murphy did much of the early pioneering with the use of helicopters on fires at Chilao. Features such as Heli-jumping were pioneered at Chilao. The use of helicopters to lay hose from a tray attached to the ship was also pioneered at Chilao.

(The 1955 through 1984 Chilao crew history is still being gathered)

More History submitted by Dennis Logue:

I was on the Chilao crew in 59, and spent a great summer there until the end of November, chasing lightning over the top of Mt Waterman and several other major fires all up and down the range of Southern Cal.  As I am now getting to be a senior citizen, I found I have some photos of the camp and crew still in my possession.  I was surprised at how well I could remember names and incidents of the season there. 

I was lead Pulaski on crew 2 (Tony Romero) on the initial attack on the Woodwardia Fire and was one of those not injured when the combined Oak Grove and Chilao crews were caught in a blow up from the bottom of the canyon in the first hour of the fire, which had been started by the patrolman from the station.  (Can't remember the name of the station.)  Bill Grater (Grader?) went to prison for the fire.  In that incident we lost about a third of the combined crews, with broken bones and burns all over the place. 

We helicoptered with Fred Bowen in the Sikorsky S-55 (See MASH) which could carry five as long as no one weighed over 160 lbs.  We also had the pilot who would not wear shoes or a shirt; only shorts and sunglasses.  (He had been Fidel Castro's pilot.)

For exercise, we would "run" up the hill across the road from the mess hall and spent a lot of time clearing and building trails in the Charleton Flat area. 

I have never ceased to be proud of being a hotshot, especially from Chilao.

Our emblem on the hard hat was a thunderbird design painted by one of our Navajo crew men and we were still using the old spruce green trucks.  The last training film made with the old green trucks was made by our crews there in Chilao in 1959. 

If there is anyone who is interested in these old pictures, or is looking for anecdotes of things during that summer, I would be glad to share all I can remember.    

Dennis Logue

Angeles Forest 1958-1972

CREW SUPERINTENDENTS

1949 - Don Biedebach

1950 - Ray Bond

1951 - Ray Bond / Lynn Biddison

1952 - Lynn Biddison

1953 - Lynn Biddison / Jim Murphy

1954 - Bill Myrick

1955 - Bill Thompson

1956 - Bill Longacre

1957 - 1958 Woody Hite

1959 - Jack Lane

1960 - 1961 Ralph Johnston

1962 - 1968 Pete Trujillo

1969 - 1974 Dick O’ Conner

1975 - 1980 Gary Raybould

1981 - 1984 Jim Ogilvie (crew was cut at the end of the 1984 fire season)

(Many thanks go to Lynn R. Biddison who provided the bulk of the Chilao crew history)