KLAMATH FALLS, Oregon —
On Monday, October 1, 2018, will be a day of remembrance and reflection of two men who died selflessly and doing what they loved every time they were deployed to a wildfire or, in some cases – a firestorm incident that required their experience and precise skills.
Twenty-six years tomorrow (1992), Pilot Charles Frost Sheridan, 54 and Co-Pilot Leonard Douglas Martin were killed while serving in the capacity of providing mutual aid from the skies down onto the firestorm below them. Dropping retardant from their Douglas Commercial or more commonly known as a DC-7B was their primary focus and main fire suppression objective.
As Sheridan and Martin were preparing for a retardant drop on the Cleveland Fire on the El Dorado National Forest in the northern portion of the State of California – both were experiencing an on board mechanical malfunction. Unexpectedly, the plane crashed at the time this was occurring. Unfortunately, both brave men would perish in the Tanker 61 crash.
Multiple Agencies including the FAA, NTSB, the USFS and our own research have concluded the following:
- Tanker 61 was a (Douglas Commercial) DC-7B owned by TMB of Tulare, California and operated by Butler Aircraft of Redmond, Oregon.
- The plane was stationed out of the Klamath Falls Airtanker Base (OR) from 1987-1992.
- The plane was under contract with the US Forest Service.
- The crash site is located near Kyburz, California on the southeastern edge of the fire on the Eldorado National Forest, about two miles from the intended retardant drop and one mile west of the upper dam on the Ice House reservoir.
Chuck Sheridan served with Tanker 61 through all six fire seasons and had a home in the Klamath Falls area. Leonard Martin had recently joined the crew as co-pilot in 1991. Both loved to give tours of their aircraft and talking to visitors about aerial firefighting.
After their deaths, a memorial fund was created to help Chuck and Leonard’s families with any emergency needs they had or would incur. Instead, these same gracious family members would instead ask that the funds be used for a higher purpose and that was to create a Memorial in their names.
Today, it is known as Tanker 61 Memorial, Wildfire Learning Center that is located at 6300 Summers Lane in Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603. You can find out more by visiting their Facebook Page, Tanker 61 Memorial, Wildfire Learning Center or visiting their website at tanker61memorial.org. Their contact information is phone #541-883-6853 or you can reach them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Memorial is located near the Klamath Falls Airtanker Base, which also where the Lakeview Interagency Fire Center is stationed. You can also catch a “up, close and personal” front row seat to the National Guard jets flying around.
You can visit this great gem and honor these two great pilots in Oregon during the months of May through October from 0900 through 1800 hours PDT. Not only can you learn about their lives and legacies but about how aerial firefighting is implemented today. As a bonus, a P2V Airtanker 06 was donated by Neptune Aviation Inc. and is currently on static display at the Memorial.
The Director of the Memorial is Marcia Cavin who has put her heart and soul into this Memorial project with the aid of her Tanker Base Manager/Volunteer husband, Don Cavin and with countless volunteers along the way. They have put together an amazing Memorial to two Heroic pilots who served unconditionally to save lives, property and natural resources.
ABOUT THE CLEVELAND FIRE
The Cleveland Fire started on September 29, 1992 that was deemed to most likely be human-caused but it has not fully been deemed to be so to this day. The fire was said to have started near Cleveland Corral and is how the fire was named after, which is east of Sacramento. It was observed that the fire had burned about 20,000 acres of forest and rugged back country in a total of 30 hours.
Flames would eventually move northeast destroying a Forest Service lookout tower on Big Hill and down the south side of the highway near Whitehall. It then would race down the American River canyon and threatened to burn up a major communications station nearby and more than 10 popular campgrounds in the Crystal Basin area.
About 150 people who live along US 50 were evacuated. About 20 USFS structures and six homes were burned, most of them Forest Service summer cabins.
Though this was a mandatory evacuation for those in the communities of Whitehall, Riverton, Kyburz and Strawberry along Hwy 150, a group of 10 family and friends decided to stay in hopes of saving their homes. They were found sheltering-in-place at the Ice House resort, a motel-restaurant-store and campground that was well inside the fire zone. Those who decided not to heed to the evacuation notice found themselves well too close for comfort, as the fire came calling at their doors (about 1/4 mile) but ended sparing every single one of their homes.
Deer hunters were in the area but quickly self-evacuated from the fire zone.
More than 2,245 firefighters battled the firestorm in steep, rugged terrain as helicopters and air resources dropped retardant and water. Fire weather consisted of low humidity, high winds and prolonged drought conditions which is said to be a wildland firefighter’s worst nightmare, making it ripe for a firestorm.
Three firefighters were injured with two of them being slightly hurt by falling debris. .
Then on October 1, 1992, during one of their preparations to drop retardant over the fire Tanker 61’s (heavy airtanker) aircraft unexpectedly crashed killing both pilots onboard. It was determined they were having some sort of mechanical malfuction at the time of the crash.
It would take until October 14, 1992, to contain and put the wildfire completely out. The fire caused more than $245 million in damages, plus an additional $16 million in fire suppression and containment costs. A total of 72 injuries and two deaths would eventually be reported.
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