The History of the Little Tujunga Hotshots (1970 - 1980)
By Rod Wrench Retired Division Chief, San Jacinto Ranger District, San Bernardino National Forest
Following the devastating flood of 1934 the Flood Control Act of 1936 was enacted by the U.S. Congress to build flood control channels and structures throughout the Los Angles basin and along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains within the L.A. River watershed of the Angeles National Forest. Then again in 1938 one of the worst floods in the history of L.A. County, killing 85 people and creating millions of dollars of damage, the funding was increased and expanded for decades to come. Hence the creation of certain Forest Service fire suppression crews to protect this valuable watershed in about 1948.The Little Tujunga Hot Shots and their facility were established in 1970 and was a L.A. River watershed funded crew. The construction of the state of the art Hot Shot facility at the existing Little Tujunga station began in 1969 and was completed in July of 1970. Rod Wrench, a crew foreman with Del Rosa Hot Shots, SBNF, was hired as the first GS-7 Superintendent on May 3, 1970. Walt Sniegowski from the Baldy R.D. ANF and Gary Glotfelty from the Plumas N.F. were hired on June 1, 1970 as the GS-6 and GS-5 crew foreman. 20 crew members and a cook were hired on July 1, 1970. While waiting for permanent transportation the crew was first transported in a Forest Service stake side truck with metal tool bins that also served as seating for the crew. A Forest Service 26 passenger International bus with the tool storage in a separate rear compartment was soon acquired and used that fire season. The superintendent had a half ton Chevrolet pickup. Both vehicles were equipped with red light and siren.
The crew’s first fire was the Kashmere Fire on July 1st. It was a class C fire off the Soledad Road near Action in L.A. County jurisdiction. On July 5th the crew’s first off forest fire assignment was the Skinner Ridge Fire, a class E, in the Little Sur of the Los Padres N. F. The crew fought 20 fires in 1970. The five forest Hot Shot crews were rotated for off forest assignments. The 1970 fire season concluded on November 13th with the 70,000 acre Santa Ana wind blown Bear Fire on the San Bernardino N.F.
On February 9, 1971 at 6:01 AM the 6.6 magnitude Sylmar earthquake occurred. Even though the epicenter was in Iron Canyon north of Bear Divide and shook the District violently the damage was the greatest at the Little Tujunga station with minor to moderate damage occurring to the other facilities on the District. The Hot Shot facility was severely damaged, the engine crews barracks was a total loss and the building that housed the engine, office, and shop had moderate damage. Engine 54 was moved 90 degrees and sitting sideways inside the garage. Both residence were damaged enough to make them unlivable. The two mobile homes were knocked off their piers 3 to 4 feet and the superintendent’s double wide mobile was split in half. All utilities were severely damage and unusable. It was a mess.
For the first part of the 1971 fire season the crew worked out of the Little Tujunga engine crew’s garage and office that survived the quake well enough to allow the Hot Shot and engine crews to occupy. Later that season the crew moved up to the Big Tujunga Station where they remained until it was decided what to do with the Little Tujunga station site.
There were three alternatives considered as to what to do with the station. One was not to rebuild but to abandon the site and not have a station at all. Another was to tear every thing down and relocate the station somewhere else and the third alternative was to repair and rebuild the 1 year old Hot Shot facility and move the engine and its crew there also. In September of 1972, nineteen months after the earthquake, a contract was awarded to repair the structure. Prior to the contractor taking over the site for reconstruction the Little Tujunga Hot Shots and forest engineering demolished the south end of the structure, deemed unsafe and beyond repair. This is where the day room, dining room, kitchen and cooks quarters were located. Heavy equipment, dump trucks, jack hammers, cutting torches, dynamite and strong backs were used to bring down this portion of the one year old structure. When the large concrete footings were blasted, chucks of concrete debris rained down on the station trailer park, on the other side of the ridge that separated the two locations, denting roof tops. The reconstruction plan was to have two separate buildings instead of the one originally constructed. The architectural design was changed moderately for this plan.
The Engine barracks was bulldozed down, and the Hot Shot crew tore down the old residence at the entrance to the station and also the old Lopez station in Lopez Canyon. The Fire Control Officer’s residence, where Hugh Masterson had lived, would be repaired at a later date and used as an interpretative and fire prevention office. This building is now part of the District office.
The bids to rebuild came in $121,000 over the engineers estimate due to the cost of repairing the water and sewer system. Engineering and the District felt Forest Service personnel could do this for $85,000. Rod Wrench was placed in charge of repairing the utility system and he and Gary Glotfelty started the job in 1972 utilizing a closed circuit television system to locate damage in the sewer system and special plumbing parts to repair the water and sewer systems. With the help of L.A. County Camp 15’s crew they constructed a 50,000 gallon water storage tank above the station and plumbed it into the old system.
A well in Merek Creek was installed and plumbed to a pump house that is located in front of the District office. The work was completed eight months later in 1973. Rod and Gary both received a Special Achievement award from the Forest for saving $50,000 and a job well done. District Fire Management Officer Cal Yarbrough was also very instrumental in the success of this project.
Due to a test trial of a district fire management re-organization in May of 1972, the Hot Shot Superintendent, Rod Wrench, was made responsible for the management and supervision of one of three geographical areas of the district. He would be the Hot Shot superintendent but in that position he would also supervise the Little Tujunga engine and FPT, the Big Tujunga engine and FPT, and the Mendenhall lookout. The Fire Prevention Officer and the Bear Divide Helitack superintendent were the other area managers. They were all responsible for the suppression, prevention, law enforcement activities, recreation site and trail maintenance in their given areas.
The Hot Shot crew returned to the newly repaired facility at Little Tujunga in August of 1973.
The Hot Shots were a multitask crew and utilized for just about anything and everything that needed to be done District and Forest wide. They were used as a road crew repairing and installing drains, a trail and recreation crew building and maintaining district trails and campgrounds, a fuels management crew constructing and maintaining fuel breaks, a hazard abatement crew clearing weeds along the roadside and around district facilities and recreation sites, a demolition crew taking down earthquake damaged structures, special use structures in Big Tujunga Canyon and old unwanted abandoned structures where ever they existed. After large fires they would go to the South Zone fire warehouse in Arcadia and clean, repair and reorganize fire hose, cots, headlamps, canteens and everything else at the fire cache. They were used on a number of District construction projects such as building concrete water tanks and installing the plumbing system, landscaping stations and the list goes on. All of this and still maintained their equipment, trained and fought fire with no fire or project related accidents.
In 1973 the district fire organization returned to the more traditional structure and Wrench became the GS-7 suppression assistant in October of that year. He continued to supervise and respond to off forest fire assignments with the Hot Shot crew until the end of the 1973 fire season.
In 1974 Walt Sniegowski became the GS-7 Little Tujunga Hot Shot Superintendent.
Gary Glotfelty became the GS-6 Engine foreman at Little Tujunga in 1972 and in September of 1975 Rod Wrench was promoted to the newly upgraded GS-9 Assistant District Fire Management Officer and in January 1980 left the district to be promoted to District Fire Management Officer on the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest.
In 1980 the Little Tujunga Hot Shots were disbanded for budget reasons, the facility continued to be used as the South Zone training center. In 2007 the crew was reactivated.
Little Tujunga Hotshots (2006 - Present)