Editor’s Note: As you read this tribute to those who have lost their lives fighting fires in the Rim Country, please remember the 19 Prescott Wildland Firefighters who died in service to their neighbors in Yarnell June 30, 2013.
It’s the last week of June which is historically the worst time for fires in Rim Country. 1961, 1968 and 1990 are amongst the years when significant fires occurred in the region. Fighting these fires is not an easy thing and it comes with plenty of risks. Ten people have died fighting fire in this region. It’s time to remember them as everyone hopes for a safe finish to fire season in the area.
In 1961 two fires under the Rim near Myrtle Point and the Tonto Fish Hatchery claimed three lives. The first of these fires was the Roberts Fire, which sparked near Mead Ranch on June 15. Air tanker pilot Chuck Cochrane was flying his fifth and final mission of the day when he crashed. He was flying a converted World War II torpedo bomber when his engine stuttered, leading to the crash and his death.
A few days later, two more fatalities occurred on the nearby Hatchery Fire. Art Goodnow and Corky Kodz were helping to direct air tankers fighting the fire when their plane clipped another. While the other plane was able to make an emergency landing in Payson, unfortunately Goodnow and Kodz perished. Goodnow and Kodz were from Payson and there are streets named Goodnow and Kodz in the area of where they lived.
In 1989 there was a fire in Horton Thicket near Tonto Creek. On July 10 a storm moved through and lightning struck and killed Ernie Cachini, a 19-year-old Zuni firefighter. Cachini died at the Payson hospital after being airlifted out.
The latter part of June in 1990 was particularly hot. Records were broken across the state of Arizona and the woods were historically dry.
A little after midday on June 25, lightning struck near Dude Creek under the Rim and what would become known as the Dude Fire was started.
The following day tragedy struck just west of Bonita Creek in Walk Moore Canyon. The fire suddenly ran, killing six firefighters from a crew from Arizona’s Perryville Prison and injuring others. James L. Denney, James E. Ellis, Curtis E. Springfield, Joseph L. Chacon, Alex Contreras and Sandra J. Bachman perished. The first five were inmates at Perryville Prison and Bachman was an administrative worker in charge of them. Five others suffered burns and other injuries during the incident. The crew deployed fire shelters during the incident but the fire was so intense that it led to the fatalities and injuries.
The Dude Fire went on to burn over 25,000 acres including the historic Zane Grey and Babe Haught cabins near Tonto Fish Hatchery. It was a historic fire at a historic time — the same day of the fatalities, it reached 122 degrees in Phoenix. The scars from this fire are still visible today.
The Dude Fire fatalities are one of the most chronicled fire incidents in history. Likely many lives have been saved because of the lessons learned from fighting that fire. There is a staff ride that is still done today and there is a Web site for it with a great deal of information on the fire. You can find it at: www.fireleadership.gov/toolbox/staffride/library_staff_ride11.html
I’ve always heard about wreck sites for the 1961 fires, but have never been given firm locations. If you know where they are located, please e-mail me at email@example.com. I’m also looking for old lookout tower and lookout information for a future story and would love to see any old photos that folks may have.