Joe Valencia, Mark Smith, and Dennis Ford were the guest speakers at a recent Vandenberg Village Rotary Meeting. They talked about the Fire Storm, 1977 Honda Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
A combination of hurricane force winds and the snapping of an electrical pole started the Honda Canyon fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base, early in the morning of December 20, 1977. Outlier wind would increase to over a hundred miles per hour.
Joe was on the Hot Shot crew and worked at SLC-6. He talked about how the Santa Barbara County responded and worked to put out the fire. This involved firefighters in the military and civilian sectors. At the time, many on the crew did not have a lot of training and experience. He said they learned from the past and moved on. He wrote a book entitled “Beyond Tranquillon Ridge” which is a story about some of their heroics, with heavy winds, the effects of the fire, and communicating.
Dennis was a military augmenter, used to fill in at that time, was not a trained firefighter. During those times some were not trained. He mentioned how four people were killed, including the base commander. The Lompoc Record has several stories about this which can be located on the internet.
Mark worked on the Hot Shot crew for 14 years before becoming the assistant fire chief in 1991 on Vandenberg Air Force Base. He learned a great deal about the history of fires and how to handle them and what to do. He said during the Honda Canyon fire, they almost lost a fire station. Today’s firefighters are well trained and schooled on dealing with fires.
The Rotary Club of Vandenberg Village and guests thanked Joe, Mark and Dennis for a very informative talk.