Aug. 9, 1947: 2 Firefighters Die Fighting Big Tujunga Canyon Blaze

L.A. Times, 1947

Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.

Their names were Carl Joseph Masterson and Edward Jerome Duffy, who went by the nickname Harry. Carl was 40, born in Kansas and lived at 1032 Julius St. in Downey. Harry was 21, born in Nebraska and lived 2061 Saturn Ave., Huntington Park.

Carl was stationed at the Lopez Canyon guard station and Harry worked in the Deer Creek firefighting camp. They suffocated when they were caught in a ravine while fighting the Big Tujunga Canyon wildfire, which burned 3,600 acres in four days before thunderstorms gave the mostly volunteer crews the upper hand.

High temperatures and gusting winds made it the worst fire in the area since 1924. “As the blaze reached trees, they burst into bright blossoms of flame,” The Times said.

On the third day, 150 men parachuted to Condor Peak to fight the blaze, and The Times’ Marvin Miles wrote of an unsuccessful attempt to seed clouds so rain would quench the flames. Hundreds of firefighters were treated for blistered feet, burns and broken bones and a helicopter chartered by the Forest Service was used to evacuate injured firefighters.

“The first day it was really bad,” first aid worker Vern Ogle said. “One boy had four broken ribs and so many abrasions from rolling down a hill he looked like he’d been worked over with sandpaper. We must have bandaged a thousand cut fingers—and we were digging cactus out of people like drilling for oil. Today it’s mostly blistered feet. Those poor guys’ feet are just wearing out.”

At the inquest for Carl and Harry, it was revealed that the fire began within 100 yards of where prisoners were building a road in Bryant Canyon. One of the men, Henry Leyva, 19, of 636 N. Mission Road, admitted going into brush about 50 feet from the road, but denied smoking a cigarette. However, jail trustee Diamantino Bernardino Jr. said Leyva told him: “I’m in a jam. I started the fire out at camp.” Leyva denied both allegations and was never charged.

A letter of sympathy signed by 116 residents of Big Tujunga Canyon was sent to the U.S. Forest Service. Angeles National Forest Supervisor William V. Mendenhall said: “This is one of the few times in Forest Service history when such a strong acknowledgment has been received following suppression of a fire. Our boys give freely of their very vitality and appreciate a word of commendation.”

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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