Tag Archive | Laguna Fire of 1970

Wildland Firefighting

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the 19 firefighters who were killed in the line of duty yesterday and are with the loved ones that they left behind.

Not only are wildland firefighters part of a long and distinguished tradition of bravery, service, and sacrifice, but the history of that service has actually led emergency management into its current era.

One of the most significant events in the history of emergency management was the Laguna wildfire of 1970. The Laguna fire, previously known as the Kitchen Creek fire and the Boulder Oaks Fire, devastated a large portion of southern California for thirteen days (Gabbert, 2009). By the end of that time, the fire had claimed sixteen lives, seven hundred structures, over a half-million acres of land, and approximately $234 million in damages. The emergency response to this incident was hampered by the fact that the multitude of agencies and jurisdictions that responded to it had no uniform way to communicate or command the incident. This led to a Congressional mandate for the U.S. Forest Service to design and implement a system that would correct these shortcomings in future multi-jurisdictional wildfires (FEMA, n.d.).

This led to the development of a system known as FIRESCOPE (Firefighting Resources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies). One of the major developments to come out of FIRESCOPE was the Incident Management System, or IMS (Ciottone, 2006, p. 79). This original version of the IMS was designed specifically for large-scale incidents in southern California. In 1985, Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini, with support from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “adapted and enhanced the system so that it could be used as easily in small events as in large ones,” thus producing the new national standards of the Incident Management System (Perry & Lindell, 2007, p. 386-7).

Because the National Incident Management System (NIMS) can trace its inception directly back to the Laguna fire of 1970, I hold that incident as the most significant single event in the history of emergency management. There have been many other incidents, pieces of legislation, and other events both before and after this fire that have had extremely important effects on emergency management. However, out of all events leading up to the modern era of emergency management, it was this incident that led to the development of a national system of uniformed and interoperable policies and procedures for emergency responses. As for the many events since this incident that have had major impacts on emergency management, they can generally be classified as having produced refinements in the system that originated from this one devastating and tragic fire in 1970.

As the battle against the fire in and around Yarnell, Arizona continues, please keep the response crews in your thoughts and remember the sacrifices and contributions that wildland firefighters have made, are making, and will continue to make to our public safety efforts in the past, present, and future.


Ciottone, G. R. (2006). Disaster Medicine (3rd ed). Philadelphia, PA: Mosby.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (n.d.) NIMS and the Incident Command System. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from http://www.fema.gov/txt/nims/nims_ics_position_paper.txt

Perry, R. W., & Lindell, M. K. (2007). Emergency Planning. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Gabbert, B. (2009). Laguna Fire, September 26, 1970. Wildfire Today. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from http://wildfiretoday.com/2009/09/26/laguna-fire-september-26-1970/