USDI Bureau of Land Mgmt

Bakersfield District


Kern Valley IHC
3801 Pegasus Dr.
Bakersfield, CA 93308


Kern Valley Hotshot building hand tools

Kern Valley Hotshots team building

2008 Kern Valley Hotshots

Kern Valley Hotshots


Much of the credit for the formation of the Kern Valley Interagency Hotshot Crew lies with former Bakersfield District FMO Rick Haffenfeld.  In the early eighties, Rick often had trouble getting resources to his fires, especially hotshot crews.  Rick viewed having a hotshot crew on the district as a solution, and after obtaining support from State FMO Pat Kidder and Bakersfield District Manager Bob Reihner, he started the process of putting together a crew.  He began with the selection of a Superintendent.  Rick’s quest to find the right person for the job took him to the nearby Los Padres National Forest.  In the spring of 1983, a 26 year old Anthony Escobar reported for duty.

The crew was initially a collection of BLM and Forest Service firefighters knows as Crew 6 who worked out of the Blackrock Work Center on the Sequoia National Forest.  Rick’s plan in the early years was to find the crew work by sending them to Alaska early in the season.  As the season progressed, the crew would move south bringing with them many of the Alaska personnel.  From the Alaska bunch the crew gained several hotshots and smokejumpers, most notably Mike Bowls, who would go on to be Captain 1A.  Other noteworthy additions to the crew were Phil Hawkins and Joe Caldwell who came from the Susanville BLM.  For key positions, Anthony chose people he had worked with on the LPF.  Among these were Ray Ruiz and Brian Fennessy (Buster).  Brian would go on to become Captain 1B.

In 1985 Anthony became a BLM permanent employee and all the crewmembers were now strictly BLM.  The crew was stationed at Chimney Peak Fire Station.  The ‘Peak’ as it was known consisted of three large trailers and a mess hall.  The station was powered by generator and lacked phone service.  The crewmembers stayed in small two-person travel trailers situated uphill from the station.  The 1985 fire season was busy and several large fires burned in Southern California.  During the Wheeler Ridge fire near Ojai the crew was able to turn the corner on a key piece of line enabling containment of the 180,000-acre fire.  Anthony regards this fire as the seminal point when the crew became a hotshot crew.  At this time there was no formal process for certifying hotshot crews.  Through informal peer recognition by the R5 hotshot crew superintendents present, the crew was a hotshot crew. The crew would come to be designated as  Crew 1, the Kern Valley Interagency Hotshot Crew.

In 1986, the Crew had begun working on the Pacific Crest Trail pioneering in the least accessible portion known as the Spanish needles section.  In 1986 crewmembers hiked in 10 sections of 20 foot long channel iron and an oxygen acetylene torch and built an iron structure into the hillside to hold the trail in place.  This area came to be known as the “Iron Works.” 

In the spring of 1988 several crewmembers came on early to work the trail, among them was Ron Napoles.  The small crew pioneered trail north, using Pionjars, rock bars and picks. A certified blaster, Anthony and various crewmembers would drill and blast rocks and stumps from the path as needed.  In May of that year the crew tied in the final section of the Spanish needles; connecting the last open portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in California.  The 1988 fire season was very active.  Most notable was a 38 day trip spent mostly on large fires in and around Yellowstone National Park.

In the years from 1989-1993 the Crew was stationed out of the vacated Kern County Fire station 42 on Niles Street.  The station was equipped with a kitchen, barracks, offices and large engine bays.  In 1990 Ron Napoles was selected as a crew foreman and took over the A-Module.   

The 1994 fire season began with the crew moving to the newly constructed Bakersfield Field Office.  Long time captain Jesus Robles left the Crew and a new group emerged.  The Crew acquired a small group of high performers in Ken Bell, Leif Mathiesen, and Heath Cota.  The Crew remained largely relevant as a line cutting crew- pulling off strong shifts when it mattered.  The Crew made appearances at the 1993 Marre Fire, 1994 South Canyon Fire, 1996 Ackerson Complex and the 1999 Kirk Fire.

In 2001, Anthony Escobar accepted the Assistant Fire Management Officer position on the Bakersfield BLM and moved down the hall.  Among his responsibilities was supervising the crew.  Ron Napoles was selected to the Superintendent position and Leif Mathiesen the Assistant.   

The Kern Valley Hotshots have had a total of 3 crew superintendents and all have worked together and with each other on the Crew.  There is only one contiguous version of the Kern Valley Hotshots.  The initial approach, lessons, values, and work processes simply continue to be improved and refined to meet new challenges.