25 Jun

As I write this “tidbit” today there are six active forest fires burning in California. When I first met my husband, in 1963, he was employed by The US Forest Service, fighting forest fires. Now some 53 years later after seven fire seasons as a volunteer at Boucher Hill and High Point lookouts on Palomar, he is employed once again by the US Forest Service as a fire lookout at Los Pinos tower in Descanso.

1963- Curt Waite, Helitack Crew  US Forest Service -Palomar Mountain

1963- Curt Waite, Helitack Crew US Forest Service -Palomar Mountain

Curt Waite - Fire tower lookout _ Palomar Mountain

Curt Waite – Fire tower lookout _ Palomar Mountain

The advances in fighting forest fires since Elsie’s days on Palomar in 1904 and 1918 are rather interesting.
In 1911 the government authorized the US Forest Service to provide Fire Protection. In 1919 the State of California provided for salaries for four forest Rangers. By 1920 they had expanded to include salaries for ten rangers.
It was common for the men of the mountain to assist in fighting wild fires. My great grandfather assisted as well as Jack. Elsie rode her burro to warn others of the fire.
In Elsie’s Mountain she wrote about a fire burning:
Aug 29 – 1918:
Mrs. Bailey phoned after supper about fire in woods, started by lightning. Jack helped fight it all evening. Fire- fighting implements are stored at our ranch. Once I took the news on our burro to Silvercrest regarding a blazing fire on the lower part of the mountain. I rode bareback. Papa had gone with the team to save my mountain. I prayed and dug in my heels and galloped to tell the people.
January, 1919:
Jan.10- Jack worked on the telephone line again and Modesto worked on the road while Pete took another load of apples down. The forest fire is not as bad as yesterday and day before. I made nine loaves of bread and a pan of rolls, also made ice cream frozen with snow.
That January fire burned 1,840 acres on Pauma Ranch. I researched that thinking it really was strange to have forest fires in January, yet found it documented elsewhere.
While preparing for this today, I came across an article that would surely be labeled in this day as “politically incorrect.” I suppose it was acceptable in early 1900’s to call a spade a spade.
A U.S. Forest Service pamphlet written in May, 1916, for Fire Suppression for California spoke of the need to evaluate men before hiring to fight a forest fire. It divided men into 4 classes.
“A fair-sized crew contains men who can and will do three or four times as much work as others. Too little attention has been given to careful grading of possible firefighters and the formulating of the proper methods of dealing with each class. The men of any community may be divided into classes, each possessing the qualifications listed below:
Class A: Men worthy of complete confidence; exerting a well-recognized anti-fire influence, possessing superior physical ability and power of endurance.
Class B: Trustworthy men equal to those of Class A, except that they do not possess the qualifications of successful Crew Bosses.
Class C: Trustworthy but ordinary men.
Class D: Shirkers; disorganizers; men without proper shoes; men who are from inexperience or inclination disinclined to respect authority and orders; men suspected of incendiary tendencies or of nursing a fire; men not trustworthy for any other reason.
Class D men should never be hired when it can be avoided. There are circumstances which make it necessary to hire about every known type of Class D men. It is sometimes good policy to make no secret of the fact that a man’s work has caused him to be regarded as undesirable on a control line. More often it is good policy to talk it over in a frank, friendly way with the Class D man himself. No more effective instrument will ever be devised for control of men and affairs than the frank, friendly discussion of a delicate subject.”
I have always considered my guy to be a class A kind of man.
“Elsie’s Mountain,” as an e-book, will be offered FREE on Amazon Kindle from Thursday, June 30 – Saturday, July 2. I hope offering it free for three days generates reviews and increases sales after it returns to a $ 5.99 price.


  1. Rita Covalt June 25, 2016 at 7:18 pm #

    I totally agree that your man is a Class A man and firefighter!

    Neat to read of some of the changes your write about since Elsie’s day. Communication has improved immensely!

  2. Tom Pogue June 25, 2016 at 9:46 pm #

    This was very interesting to read. I appreciated the tone in which the grading of men was written. I fought fires for the U.S. Forest Service in 1971 and 1972 and I found the grading as described to be accurate. In 1971 certain Federal Laws came into effect and there were a few Class D men hired to satisfy that law. Unfortunately they jeopardized the safety of all the other classes. When I came to the conclusion that things would only get worse regarding the hiring of those totally unqualified I left the Forest Service. A sad day as it was the job I loved more than another in my 45 year work career.

    • Barb Waite June 26, 2016 at 6:31 am #

      Thanks for the interesting insight Tom.

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