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Ted Hall, Arnie Quinones & Camp 16: Part 2 – the Inferno

September 11th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

camp-gleason1

The memorial for LA County firefighters Captain Ted Hall and Specialist Arnie Quinones will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

So let us revisit the events on Mt. Gleason on August 30 in order to honor the work and the lives of two men who became the teachers, heroes and friends, over the years, to several hundred wildland firefighters—who also happened to be prison inmates.

Many of those former inmates will be prominent among the mourners at Elysian Park on Saturday morning.


gleason-fire-office-boq


Mt. Gleason, or Camp 16 —it is known by both appellations-
— was opened in 1979 as the first of four Los Angeles County Fire Department Wild Land fire camps where prison inmates are trained in wild land fire fighting techniques—and then deployed to the front lines when a fire breaks out.

“Most of us are flatlanders,” said LA County fire inspector Steve Zermeno. “We’re the ones who are going to be used for structure protection. These guys,” he said, “the inmates, are the people who are trained in wildland firefighting, which is a whole different thing.

“So when we get a big fire like the Station fire, we really count on them.”

At the time that the Station Fire broke out—the largest fire ever to hit LA—Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones were stationed at Mt. Gleason to train, mentor and help deploy Camp 16′s teams of inmate firefighters.

It seems that, for both men, their commitment to the fire camp work was some kind of genuine calling. Ted Hall had been stationed at Gleason for the past few years and loved being up there.

Arnie Quinones, who was younger than Ted Hall, had been at the Gleason camp longer, since 2005. But when the department higher ups learned that his adored wife Lori was pregnant, they offered Q.—as he was called—a chance to transfer to a post that would be closer to his wife as her delivery date approached.

Arnie declined the transfer. He was devoted to his wife, but in terms of work, he wanted to remain with the wildfire inmates at Camp 16.

It was, as we now know, a fateful choice—in the worst and the best sense or the term.

It has already been reported, here and elsewhere, that Quinones and Hall helped save the lives of the 55 inmates and three CDCR staff who were still at Mt. Gleason when a part of the Station fire made a run at the camp. (The camp’s other 50 or so inmates were already deployed on the fire lines.)

But the details of what happened that day are far scarier:

The fire didn’t just overrun the camp. It turned into a blast-furnace and melted it. It caused its windows to to turn liquid and run into sculptural puddles. When people talk about infernos, the fire that ate Camp Gleason is what they have in mind.
dining-hall-showing-melted-glass-and-warped-stainless-tables1

NOTE: The investigation is ongoing and new facts and shadings to events will assuredly emerge, but, based on interviews with CDCR officials and LA County Fire spokespeople, here is the best of what we know so far about what happened on Mt. Gleason :

When the fire shifted course and began racing toward the camp, Hall and Quinones herded everyone into the cinder block-constructed dining hall, which had long been designated as the structure most likely to provide adequate shelter. But the fire continued to intensify. Hall told everyone to stay put, while he and Quinones tried to set some back fires to slow the flames down.

Deliberately setting a fire in front of an oncoming conflagration, if done right, burns back toward the blaze and takes away its fuel. A backfire won’t altogether stop a big fire that’s on the move. But it’ll take some of the wind out of its sails.

Hall and Quinones took off in a large, red 4X4 pickup and within ten or fifteen minutes they radioed that they’d accomplished what they needed to do and were heading back.

In the meantime, however, things were changing at camp. The dining hall that had been a refuge was turning into an oven. Literally. The fire had already eaten much of the oxygen in the structure. Glass began to liquefy and the roof buckled ominously. The foreman left in charge in Hall’s absence, quickly came to the conclusion that he had to get everyone out of the dining hall immediately, even though that meant running through flames.

As the men ran out, to protect themselves marginally, they deployed their fire shelters, the small emergency tents with one highly reflective surface, that firefighters use only when all other hope is gone and they have no means of escaping a fire.

The camp had three mascots—two dogs and a cat-–to which most inmates and staff became attached during their stay in the mountains. When everyone raced to take shelter in the dining hall, several of the crew members corralled Magic, the small black Lab and Spooky, a black dog of indeterminate parentage, and got them into the building with them. Still another inmate grabbed J-Cat, the large, gray feline, who was not nearly so cooperative as the dogs.

On the way out, however, both dogs panicked, got away from their handlers and ran back into the flaming dining hall. The Gleason crews watched in horror as, seconds later, the structure’s roof gave way on top of the dogs. In the commotion, J-Cat also escaped, leaving behind him some deep scratches in his inmate caretaker’s arms.

Next, the foreman piled everyone into crew carriers, and proceeded to drive around looking for some place in the camp that wasn’t burning. By then the backfires had started to work just a bit of their magic, and the best someplace turned out to be the parking lot, which had the most cleared space around it. Yet, while not actively on fire, no one mistook the parking lot for safe.

Some of the men fully deployed their fire shelters.

Everyone wondered if they would survive. But, by then the worst was over. The back fires had turned the tide, just enough.

“I don’t know how we are here,” said a still shaken Captain Sharon Henry, who was one of the three CDCR staff who were at Gleason during the fire. “…except to say that it wasn’t our time.”

Repeated calls were made to Hall and Quinones on the radio.
But they never picked up.

As we all now know, and edge of the fire caught up with the two men, and their truck plunged 800 feet down an embankment. Ted hall and Arnie Quinones put themselves fearlessly in harm’s way to do what was needed to save the men in camp. But they had not been able to save themselves.

Captain Ray Harrington was the CDCR officer who debriefed the Gleason teams the next day, after their rescue. Finding out about Hall and Quinones deaths, he said, “was just horrific for them.

“When they work those fire lines, they all pull together.
They become a team. So, yeah, they were devastated.”

Inspector Zermeno agrees.
“The firefighters and the inmates become very close. They become a family.”

On Saturday, the CDCR firefighting family will be among those grieving deeply….and giving thanks.

Posted in CDCR, Fire, LACFD, Natural Disasters | 21 Comments »

21 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    So, after telling this horror story, may we expect you, Celeste, to demand that controlled burning be started and completed for fire control in these high risk areas that claim lives?

  2. George Says:

    I served as a firefighter at Mount Gleason Camp #16 from 2002 to 2007. In those five years I developed a bond with the staff at that camp that I’m sure will last my lifetime.
    I was watching the news at the time when Hall and Q’s vehicle had been discovered and it was in that instant that my phone rang. On the other end was an L.A. Co. firefighter who I had the pleasure of working under while at Mt. Gleason. He asked me if I was watching news and I said yes. He then told me through tears who it was that died in that crash. I was stunned. I knew both men. Quinones I knew very well.
    The memorial was awesome and I had the honor of sitting with my former bosses and Correctional staff.
    What I am having trouble swallowing is why there was no air support over that camp. We all know that air craft were making runs all over Angeles Forest. A couple of helicopters could have saved the day. Heck, even a run over with the sky crane. What happened L. A. County? Who dropped the ball? Additionally, why was the heli-pad over looked as a safety zone? I know that camp and in 2006 we evacuated the camp except for me and five other inmates. It was planned that in the event the fire over ran the camp we would muster at the heli-pad. We had water, gear and fire shelters at the pad in the event we needed to go there. That chow hall was surrounded by pines! The exterior surrounding the building had walkways that had over hanging roofs that were all wood and designed to shelter in foul weather. . That place was a human oven! I cannot support the decision that was made to use the chow hall as an alamo. If you’ll recall, no one survived the Alamo.
    Too many unanswered questions.
    I remain a proud member of the Wolf Pack.

    Much love to you guys,
    George

  3. Philip Says:

    I was Lieutenant Sims’ Clerk at Mt. Gleason from August 8, 2000 to August 8, 2002, when I left to Orange County Halfway House for my last three months.

    I agree with George, I think the Camp could have been saved. The two brave LA County Fire Staff who died arrived after I had left, so I did not know them, but trust me, my heart does ache and my prayers go out to their families.

    You do get close with those around you in those kinds of situations such as exist at fire camp. And, let me say this, and I truly mean it, I had a hell of a lot of respect for every single guy who got up every morning, went to breakfast and then took those grueling mandatory hikes right after chow, and then still went out and worked the grade all day.

    At least Mr. Hall and Mr. Quinones were able to save those left behind at the Camp. Surely God has a place for them up there. And to George, the Wolf Pack will always live on. I know it’s wishful thinking, but it would be nice if the Camp was re-built.

    Philip, Mt. Gleason 8/8/2000 – 8/8/2002

  4. Craig P. Says:

    The most important question that no one has asked is why were they there in the first place? The crews from Camp 16 had been pulled off the fire, and before the tragic accident, there was a lot of hushed talk about why they weren’t in base camp and on the lines as part of the Station Fire. Others wanted to know why the camp wasn’t being evacuated when the fire behavior had already proven to be beyond anything that would allow for a true ground defense without massive aerial support. There is much much more to this story then anyone is talking about publicly and I truly hope that the truth comes out. It’d be a real shame and a crime to let those two brave men die with only the notion that in hindsight, that camp should have been evacuated. Without a doubt in my mind, we should be looking at those pictures above and telling the story that thank god no one had been in that area in the face of the oncoming fire, and thank god Capt Hall and FFS Quinones were still safe and sound. But that’s not what we’re saying, and there is NO excuse for that.

  5. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Craig, thanks for the comment. It is definitely being talked about and investigated. Whether it will ever be made public or not, is another issue. I’ve had plenty of private conversations, but they are inconclusive.

    Air support was not possible on that day in those conditions. That I do know. But as for the rest…..

    There are a great many people who believe that Camp 16 should have been evacuated.

  6. Eric Fox Says:

    I was part of the rescue / escort team (LASD) that went up to Camp 16 that day. I still think about that terrible day all the time. It’s hard to describe what we all saw and experienced that day on the way up the mountain and when we arrived. Even though I did not know Ted and Arnie personally, I still grieve for them. They are heros and they deserve all of the recognition.

  7. Sierra Says:

    I am a daily commuter and drive by Camp 16. It deeply saddens me to see the devestation caused by the Station Fire. Does anyone know the mile marker where Capt. Hall and Specialist Quinones went over the embankment? Will a memorial site be placed there? I would suggest renaming the hwy in honor of them.

  8. Isaiah Quinones Says:

    i Want to thank everyone for everything they have done and praying for our family.

    much love to everyone.

  9. J Gonzales Says:

    I just moved to Palmdale, not far from Camp 16 where I was on Crew 3 from 2004-2006, I knew Cpt. Hall and Foreman Q… They are still dearly missed and thought of. I am planning on going on up there to pay my respects and remeber them for the GREAT men the truly were and continue to be!!!!!

  10. Angela Says:

    The year is almost here and I still remember that day like it was yesterday. My hubby was an inmate there that day and as of how we have NEVER heard of why they were all LEFT and forgotten without being evacuated, even after families called the camp all morning that sunday to evacuated them. As a matter of fact my hubbys released date was a week after that tragic day and he was evacuated one or two days before Aug. 30, but we dont know who authories to bring him and others back to the camp that same day.Can you believe that? They had no business bringing him back, for what to suffer? Well according to the cops they are/were Firefighthers and they were there to save the camp…Really!? Everyone in that camp was to busy trying to figure out if they were going to survive running around that camp. And Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones where looking for a way to get them all out that mountain. :( I pray one day we all get our answers and hope that everyone that was there that day is doing well. NEVER FORGOTTEN!

  11. jose Says:

    i was a inmate at Mt. Gleason the day that this fire hit and it was something that i will never forget i had the chance to sever with these guy… they will be missed…

  12. moises Says:

    I was their an inmate at gleason crew 16-2 it was a crazy experience for me never though i would through something like that.to tell you guys the truth i didn’t think we where gonna make it out alive.Q and hall were Good people!!! much respect to everybody that was their!!!!

  13. Dave Anderson Says:

    Hey Ted, “I love you man”

  14. Kevin Stancius Says:

    I was there at the fire, I was one of the imates. There is a story that wasn’t fully told on the News, I think it was to protect the reputation of the higher ups. But I think by not telling the full story is a disrespect to those awesome fire fighters who put their lives up for me and others to live. If this concerns anyone email me kevin.stancius@yahoo.com

    K

  15. Donavan Muir Says:

    As a firefighter I can relate to the above.. It is sad that the lives were lost.. I was just a kid when my dad was a captain there in the late 70′s. i remember my brother and I being there on weekends with my dad and mom(who was the camp nurse). pulling guard duty. It was too much fun, raiding the kitchen and having free rein of the camp. checking out the missle silos and hunting birds around the camp. Is the memorial still there for Bill? cannnot remember his lastname. My Dad Paul Muir built that with his own hands for his friend who died of cancer.. I hope they rebuild the camp and honor Capt. Hall and Foreman Q. best regards, Donavan Muir

  16. Michael "KingDread" Tate Says:

    I was @ Mt. Gleason from March 2005-Oct. 10, 2009, i knew Capt. Hall & “Q” (as we called him) RIP both very well. A couple of u who left comments names sound familar, i was 1st Saw 4 Crew #2 & aftah puttin in 3 yrs on crew, i became lead laundry worker. I was known as “T” – But anyway, dat day will b a day i will neva 4git no matter wat… I had been told i wud b manned up to help fight di Station Fire whn i hadnt been on crew or di line inn over 3 yrs. I was INFURIATED !… But i refused to fucx off mi RELEASE DATE which was only 3months away frm di day station fire began… I can remember lookin out mi room widow & seein di fire approachin but we had far more thn enuff fucxin tyme to evacuate safely be4 di fire ever reached r location but believe it or not, US FORESTRY took us off di line & just watched di fire make its way & destroy all inn its path. What transpired to mi was premeditated. Hall & Q wud still be alive had we just been alollowed 2 just EVACUATE… But as it was mentioned above: {{{There is much much more to this story then anyone is talking about publicly and I truly hope that the truth comes out. It’d be a real shame and a crime to let those two brave It’d be a real shame and a crime to let those two brave men die with only the notion that in hindsight, that camp should have been evacuated}}}} _Blessings to All di Surviors of Camp #16 & di Family members of Capt. Hall & Quinones fa real*

  17. WitnessLA.com » Blog Archive » Firefighters Arnie Quinones & Ted Hall: A Hero Story Says:

    [...] as CDCR officials knew at the time. Since this account was written new facts have emerged, which I posted about here. But the investigation is ongoing and a truly accurate account may not emerge for some time. [...]

  18. San Gabriel Mountains Says:

    [...] The San Gabriels are a veritable natural disaster factory, especially given their proximity to Los Angeles. They are geologically active, meaning earthquakes. Big Pacific storms can create landslides and catastrophic floods. And there’s the fires. The Station Fire of 2009 was a monster. This memorial is located at the burnt-out Fire Camp 16, located near Mt. Gleason. Read the gripping story of Camp 16 here. [...]

  19. ERNEST ALFONSO GONZALES, JR. Says:

    I TOOK THIS INCIDENT AT HEART AND REALLY GET EMOTIONAL WHENEVER I READ ABOUT IT! I WAS AN INMATE AT MT.GLEASON FROM APRIL 08-DEC 08! I WAS ON INMATE CREW #4 AND GREW VERY CLOSE TO MY CREW! MY FOREMANS WERE FIRE SPEC/CARDULO AND FIRE SPEC/CAZZAUL- I KNOW I DIDN’T SPELL CAZ’…NAME RIGHT LOL OOPS! SORRY FOREMAN ‘C’! I WAS NOT ONLY CLOSE TO MY ENTIRE CREW BUT EVERYONE AT MT. GLEASON! MI LOVE U ALL! IT’S ME ERNIE GONZALES! I WAS THE HIKER! LOL!

  20. ERNEST ALFONSO GONZALES, JR. Says:

    TO THE FAMILY’S OF CAPT.TED HALL AND FIRE SPEC/FOREMAN ARNIE QUIEONNES ‘Q’~ MY DEEPEST SYMPATHIES GOES OUT TO ALL OF YOU! THOSE BRAVE NEN WERE LIKE FAMILY TO ME! I WAS ON MANY FIRES WITH CAPT. HALL AND ‘Q’! ALL OF 08 I WAS THERE AND WAS THE BEST HIKER KNOWN AS “SPEEDY GONZALES”! I RAN ALL MY HIKES AND I HAD GOOD MEMORIES THAT I EILL NEVER FORGET! SINCERELY LOVE U ALL ERNIE CP #16 -GONZALES- CREW 4

  21. Javier Salcido Says:

    CAPTAIN TEDMUND HALL & FIREFIGHTER SPECIALIST ARNIE “Q” QUIONNES…NEVER FORGOTTEN!!! GOD BLESS

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