In August 1979, along a remote ridgeline near Santa Maria, four firefighters from a California Division of Forestry (CDF) engine crew, were preparing to defend the northern flank of the Spanish Ranch fire.
Captain Ed Marty, and firefighters; Scott Cox, Ron Lorant and Steve Manley responded to the fire from the Nipomo fire station. They were all from California, but were as different as the golden state’s angles, aspects and arenas. They were defined more from where they were from; Tehama, Goleta, Long Beach and La Habra.
No one predicted what would happen next—but in a page from man versus nature, the fire accelerated and then swept across the face of the slope which the four young firefighters were on.
At 4:25 PM their thin line of defense was cut-off and a retreating bulldozer operator was overrun. Minutes later, they tried to escape from the sweeping area ignition, but the fire cut-off their retreat and along with another dozer operator they were all overrun by fire.
The tragedy that occurred and the subsequent investigation would change the way the state fire agency operated on area wildfires. Area Ignition looks back 30-years to honor the men who fought and died in the Spanish Ranch Fire. It recreates the courage, emotion and human frailties that are interwoven from the initial ignition point—to the final survivors’ thoughts as they proceeded past a solitary CDF fire engine.
Although much has changed since then—young firefighters still go out every year to battle California wildfires just like their brothers of the past. We owe it to them to understand a little bit of the awesome power of wildfires and the people who fight them.