Incident Name:  Stanza Fire, near Happy Camp, CA
Date:  July 28, 2002
Personnel:  three lives lost
Agency/Organization:  Forest Service
Position: Engine crew

Steven Oustad, 51, captain
Heather DePaolo-Johnny, 29
John Self, 19

The Type III Lassen National Forest engine commanded by Captain Oustad was assigned to provide support during the night shift along a narrow forest road as a part of the Stanza fire near Happy Camp, California. The company was assigned to patrol the road, which was being used as a fire break, to prevent the spread of fire. The task involved driving up and down the road repeatedly through the night. Eight hours of the 12-hour night shift had passed. As the engine patrolled the road, the driver’s side tires left the outside edge of the roadway. The engine rolled off the road and down a steep slope (approximately 1,000 feet) into an old timber harvest area. The apparatus rolled a number of times. Two rear-seat occupants sustained serious injuries but remained in the vehicle. Firefighter DePaolo-Johnny, the driver, Captain Oustad, the front-seat passenger, and Firefighter Self, a rear-seat passenger, were ejected and killed. The cause of death for all 3 firefighters was listed as internal trauma. The investigation concluded that all of the occupants of the engine were wearing seat belts but that the severity of the roll ejected the 3 firefighters who were killed. Mechanical failure was ruled out. Other factors which may have contributed to the incident were darkness, smoke, and dust in the air due to passing vehicles.

Memorial Quince flowers from the Fire Site 3/8/2003 | Last 2 Hotshot photos row 1 compliments of Jim Hutton, July 30, 2002

FS ShieldMemorial trip to the Stanza fire site 6/28/03Stanza Fire and FS Engine 07/27/02A Backing fireHotshot burning out the line

LNF Engine 11 CrewHeather, Steve, JohnJohnSteve, 1995HeatherFS Shield


Accident Location: Road 15N03A near Drop Point 1
{mosmap lat=’41.66378’|lon=’-123.29184’|marker=’0’|text=’Accident Location’}

Stanza Fire Perimeter Map 07/30/02

Stanza Fire Perimeter Map 07/30/02

Stanza Fire Final Perimeter Map 08/03/02

Stanza Fire Final Perimeter Map 08/03/02

Stanza Fire Progression Map 07/30/02

Stanza Fire Progression Map 07/30/02

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • USFS: Press Release 07/28/02

USFS: Press Release 07/28/02

  • USFS: Press Release 07/29/02

USFS: Press Release 07/29/02

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • About the Fallen Firefighters Download (150 K pdf) originally from the Lassen National Forest Webpage.
  • Three Firefighters Killed When Fire Engine Rolls Down 800-Foot Calif. Ravine ; Two Others Suffer Serious Injuries7/28/2002 | Online Article (no longer online)

    HAPPY CAMP, Calif. (AP) — A fire engine fighting wildfires in the Klamath National Forest tumbled 800 feet off a steep, dirt road into a ravine Sunday, killing three firefighters, officials said.

    Two others survived the plunge and were airlifted to the Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Ca., said Brian Harris, a the U.S. Forest Service spokesman. Their conditions were not known.

    The five firefighters were returning from a 620-acre fire near the extreme northern California town of Happy Camp at about 2 a.m. when the truck rolled off the ravine, he said.

    “Indications are they rolled in the worst possible place. It’s safe to say they rolled the entire 800 feet,” over rocky and partially wooded terrain, he said.

    The about 400 firefighters working the fires retreated Sunday and let the blaze burn unchecked, Harris said. No homes were threatened. The deaths brought to 12 the number of firefighters killed while fighting blazes in the West this summer. (more about fires at the link…)

  • Accident on the Stanza Fire 9/25/02 Online Article (no longer online)THE TRAGIC ACCIDENT ON THE STANZA FIRE

    The Stanza Fire was sparked by lightning on Monday, July 22, 2002, on the Klamath National Forest. Located 10 miles south of Happy Camp, California, the fire grew large quickly in the dry, steep, densely vegetated hillsides.

    In the early morning hours on July 28, five crewmembers of Lassen National Forest Engine 11 were doing a routine patrol along a road near the perimeter of the fire when their fire engine left the road, rolled down a steep embankment and into a ravine. Only two of the five crewmembers survived the plunge. They were transported via helicopter to Mercy Medical Center in Redding. Ryan Smith, 20, suffered serious injuries and Alex Glover, 19, was in fair condition. Both are now released from the hospital.

    Engine 11 was based at the Almanor Ranger District in Chester, California.

    Condolences (cards and letters) for the families of the firefighters may be sent care of: Lassen National Forest, 2550 Riverside Drive, Susanville, California 96130, Attn: Family of Steve Oustad, Heather DePaolo, or John Self. Cards may also be sent to the forest for Ryan Smith or Alex Glover.


    Steven Kent Oustad

    Steven has been described by his family as fair, honest, gentle but strong, caring, sensitive, sharing, kind, talented, humorous, animated, responsible, capable, helpful, punctual, courteous, clean, and precise. Steven Kent Oustad was born July 27, 1951, in Redwood City, California. His early education was completed at Morse and Sierra Elementary Schools in Sunnyvale, California and high school at Homestead High School in Cupertino, California. In high school Steve joined the theatrical group, and played in several successful productions, including “Oliver Twist.” After high school Steve and a friend purchased a Metre van and began an extended trip of the Pacific Northwest, the United States and Canada, which lead to beginning his interest in the outdoors. After returning from this trip, Steven took up residence with his brother, David.

    Then after several odd jobs, wanderlust affected him again. He and John Hawkins went north and settled in Sterling City, where he purchased a house and gained a lot of experience remodeling and improving the house. He later founded the Sterling City Volunteer Fire Department and kept active with fire prevention until joining the USDA Forest Service. Steve served approximately 25 years with the Forest Service beginning in 1978 on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. In 1979 we worked for the Forest Service in Butte Meadows until 1982. In 1982 he went to work for the Almanor Ranger District as a Fire Engine Operator and at the time of his death he was acting as Captain for Engine 11. He also served briefly for the Plumas National Forest as well. Steve will be remembered by many for his silly wit and humor as well as his generous heart. He enjoyed the outdoors, spending time with his friends and family as well as traveling to Mexico during his off time. He was a very active member with the Westwood Community Theater Group where he spent seven years fulfilling his dream of being and actor.

    Steven Oustad was the module leader of Engine 11. He is survived by parents Bjorn and Rosemary; brother David of San Jose; and sister Patty Glumac of San Jose.

    Heather DePaolo

    Heather DePaolo was the operator of Engine 11. She is survived by husband Sean Johnny of Redding (Karuk Tribal Member); mother Sylvia Kratzke of Amherst, New York; father Tony of Charlotte, North Carolina; and brother Jeremy, of Monckscorner, South Carolina.

    Heather Jane DePaolo always loved the west — whether it was the west side of Buffalo, N.Y., where she grew up, or the great expanses of the western United States that she discovered after college.

    And the plucky 29-year-old was focused — once she made up her mind about something, she worked at it until it was finished.

    With dual degrees in women’s studies and Spanish, DePaolo had plenty of options when she graduated from New York’s Syracuse University about seven years ago.

    But then Heather DePaolo discovered firefighting and never looked back, her brother, Jeremey DePaolo, said Monday.

    “She fell in love with fire and the West. Heather loved life and loved travel, but her greatest love was fire,” said Jeremey DePaolo, her only sibling.

    She and four other strike team members were checking a backfire that had been set on the Klamath National Forest south of Happy Camp when their truck plunged over the edge of a narrow mountain track, plummeting 800 feet down a rocky cliff.

    Heather DePaolo and two others were killed. Two young firefighters with them survived.

    “Our parents divorced when we were young. We were 1 years apart in age. She was my best friend in the whole world,” Jeremey DePaolo, 30, said.

    Jeremy DePaolo, second officer on a crude oil tanker, had just docked in Long Beach when he got the call notifying him of his sister’s death.

    He joined Heather’s husband, U.S. Forest Service firefighter Sean Johnny, in Yreka on Monday.

    Johnny and Heather DePaolo met on a fire and married last year in a ceremony in Brazil, Jeremy DePaolo said. Both were members of the elite Redding Interagency Hotshots last year, traveling to dozens of fires from California to Kentucky.

    The couple recently had rented an apartment in Redding, where Heather looked forward to settling in after the fire season ended, her brother said.

    “We both have itchy feet — we’re used to living out of duffel bags,” Jeremey DePaolo said. But Redding would be her home, at least during the off season.

    A full-time employee with the Forest Service, Heather planned on a fire academy teaching job next year, said her brother.

    Johnny asked Jeremy DePaolo to speak for him during Monday’s telephone interview.

    Blond, tall and slender, Heather was an attractive and athletic young woman, her brother said.

    She combined brains with a work ethic that was amazing, he said.

    The brother and sister both went to City Honors High School in Buffalo, the school where the “smart kids” went, Jeremey DePaolo recalled.

    “Heather was a rebel in high school” who once dyed her hair green, said her brother. And when her mother told her to move out if she didn’t like the rules, Heather did.

    She was 16.

    “She worked two jobs, . . . got her own apartment and finished high school,” said Jeremey DePaolo. “She worked at an upscale Italian restaurant. Really, she was a gourmet chef.”

    Her grades won her scholarships that paid for 90 percent of her college tuition, said Jeremey DePaolo.

    She traveled to Spain, to Costa Rica.

    After college, Heather DePaolo joined AmeriCorps, sometimes referred to as the domestic Peace Corps, and that assignment brought her west.

    She discovered snowboarding and worked at the Grand Canyon. She joined the Bureau of Land Management as an apprentice firefighter and she was hooked.

    “She was like a rock star,” her brother said. “She was number one in her academy class.”

    “There aren’t a lot of full-time people in the Forest Service and she was one of them. It was her life.

    “This was her life’s calling. This is a tragedy. . . . She was a remarkable, remarkable human.”

    John Self

    John, or “Cowboy,” was noted for his engaging smile, hard-working ethic, and leadership skills. Hunting, fishing, welding, horseback riding, and roping were high on his list of hobbies. Countless examples demonstrating his leadership qualities included Westwood High School football team captain and attaining “All League” status in the Feather River High School Football League for his ability as a quarterback and linebacker. Wrestling, baseball, pitching horseshoes, and rodeo also interested him. While he was noted for his prowess in sports, he also won awards for other talents. During Westwood’s annual Paul Bunyon Festival, Cowboy placed in the two-man handsaw and chokersetter events. He received the prestigious Lumberjack of the Year Award, where local merchants don winners with much recognition and a bundle of amenities. Cowboy consistently made Westwood High School’s honor roll. He also found time to take college classes three nights a week, umpire Little League games, and coach Powder Puff teams. He further shared his love and knowledge of sports as a school newspaper sports reporter. Cowboy’s supervisor at Medici Logging Company described him as, “incredibly hard working and full of surprises.” As a firefighter for the Lassen National Forest’s Almanor Ranger District, he is remembered for his unwavering support of co-workers and helpful attitude. During the July 30 memorial in his honor, it was overwhelmingly obvious by the testimonials that he impacted many lives during the three years he lived in the community. Cowboy’s football and baseball coaches gave him high tribute by officially retiring the number on his jersey–22. John Self was a firefighter on Engine 11. He is survived by his mother Gina of Westwood; father John of Fort Benning, Georgia; and sister Samantha of Winona, Mississippi.

    Details of a joint memorial service to be held October 19, 2002, in Chester, CA will be announced.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Thoughts, written by Marilyn Townsend, a resident of Happy Camp, California. Marilyn attended the memorial service that occurred at the Stanza Incident Base in Happy Camp on July 29, 2002.I attended a memorial service tonight for three firefighters. They died fighting a relatively small fire in the Klamath Forest.

    There were no caskets. There were no ministers. There were no wreaths. There were no hearses. There were only the friends, other firefighters, and townspeople who wanted to remember the people who died to save other people from the destructiveness of fire.

    There were a few flowers from the gardens in town. A vase for each person. Three vases. Each vase held some white flowers. White is for purity. These were people with purity of spirit, that childlike, trusting, positive spirit. The spirit that believes that when something is wrong, it can be made right. The spirit that believes it can make things right. Each of these people believed that when there is a fire, it can be stopped, and they are the ones who are willing and able to stop it. That is a strong spirit.

    Each of the vases contained a red flower. Red for the fire they fought against. And red for passion. They had a passion for living, a passion for being active and out-of-doors, a passion for working together with others to do the right thing.

    Each of the vases contained oranges, and pinks, and yellows. The colors of the sunrises and sunsets they saw more often than people with regular jobs. The colors of all the sunrises and sunsets they will no longer see. At least from down below. I wonder what sunrises and sunsets look like from above?

    And most of the flowers were still buds, not wide open flowers. These were people who were still young. They had not lived fully opened lives yet. Even the crew chief, at age 51, is considered young in our society.

    Who would have believed us if we had wished Steven a “Happy Birthday” and had “Welcome to Middle Age” balloons at his twenty-sixth birthday party? Or considered Heather middle-aged at her fifteenth birthday? Or who in his right mind would think John, a ten-year-old, was half finished with his living? All of these were young people just beginning to plan and live their lives. And when they went out in the truck that day, they were still planning their tomorrows.

    Whatever God you believe in, it is a blessing to each of us that we do not see our endings. That is, it’s only a blessing if we treasure each today, because we do not know about our tomorrows. If we presume our tomorrows and misuse our today’s, we often waste perfectly good opportunities to appreciate each other, opportunities to look at the sunrises and sunsets, opportunities to tingle to the small incredible sensations of breathing, and laughing and crying, and sleeping and dreaming, and waking and beginning again.

    It’s sad to waste a day. These three wasted no days. On their last evening, they got ready to go out and do the job they had chosen, with each other, with that strong, positive spirit that says “I can make a difference in this world.” They made a difference. Even now, as they affect each of us, they continue to make a difference.

    When the memorial service was ending, I felt the proper compulsion to sing something religious, “Amazing Grace”, or “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, something uplifting. But I’m a mother. All I could get to come out was:

    “Sleep my child

    and peace attend thee

    all through the night.

    Guardian angels

    will attend thee

    all through the night.”

    And I cried for three people I never met.

  • Order of Events at the Memorial Service at Stanza Incident Base in Happy Camp
    • Opening Remarks
    • Pledge of Allegiance
    • Reading of the Twenty-Third Psalm
    • Introduction of Family Members
    • Raising the flag to half mast
    • Bag Piper plays “Amazing Grace”
    • Light sticks (the sprit of fallen firefighters lives on)
    • Honor Procession places light sticks at the flag.
  • Photos from the Stanza Incident Base Memorial Service

    Jeremy DePaolo remembering Heather.Deputy IC John Wendt, pays tribute.Display of light sticks representing the spirit of fallen FFs.American flag at half mast.

    Honor Procession.Light sticks placed at base of the American flag.Firefighters honoring fallen companionsCDF bagpiper, Skip Sannar, plays Amazing Grace.

  • CIIMT5 Honoring the fallen and injured as they demobe from the incident within an incident: CIIMT5 Honoring the fallen and injured
  • Lassen Fire Fighter Engine 11 Memorial Web Page and info about the LNF Memorial
  • Photos and Memories of Steve Oustad 1951-2002These photos and memories cover Steve’s early family and firefighting life starting in 1972 and continue to include the Westwood Memorial Service and some of Heather’s family.

    The page was created by Steve’s family friend Cheryl Hawkins who writes: While cleaning off his desk, after he’d died, his sister came across a doodle by the phone. It showed a truck on the edge of a cliff. There was a symbol, kind of a spiral, that at first I took as a fire hose. (The truck rolled end over end down the cliff.) There were four words on it, they were smoke, fire, cliff and fog. I took that as a sign that somehow he knew.

  • Steve’s Obituary from the Lassen County Times 8/21/02Steven Kent Oustad, 51, died on July 28, 2002, while in the line of duty while serving on the Stanza Fire located on the Klamath National Forest. He was born in Redwood City, on July 27, 1951. He was a high school graduate of Homestead High School and was a long time resident of Westwood. Steve will be remembered by many for his silly wit and humor and for his generous heart. He enjoyed the outdoors, spending time with his friends and family as well as traveling to Mexico during his off time. He was a very active member with the Westwood Community Theater Group where he spent seven years fulfilling his dream of being an actor. In the 70s, Steve founded the Sterling City Volunteer Fire Department, where he served his time until joining the U.S. Forest Service in 1978. He served approximately 25 years with the U.S. Forest Service beginning in 1978 on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. In 1979, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Butte Meadows until 1982. Then went to work on the Almanor Ranger District as a Fire Engine Operator and at the time of his death, he was acting as Captain for Engine 11. He also served briefly for the Plumas National Forest as well. His sister, Cheryl Oustad, preceded him in death in December 2001. He is survived by his parents, Bjorn and Rosemary Oustad; brother, Dave Oustad; sister, Patty Ousted; stepbrothers, Tom and Lee Morrison; stepsisters, Diane Shiffer and Val Arnold; and many nieces and nephews. There was a Memorial Service held for Steve and his other two crew members that died in the line of duty on Saturday, August 3, 2002 at the Westwood Community Park. A celebration of Steve’s life immediately followed where many family members, friends, extended family and his many acquaintances from several different fire agencies gathered to celebrate his life. The International Association of Firefighters gave a Commemorative Medal of Honor to his father. The family also received the Wildland Firefighter Memorial Statue for Fallen Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service. Any donations can be made in the memory of Steve Oustad to Plumas Bank, 315 Birch St., Westwood, CA 96137, where the funds will be graciously donated to the Westwood Community Theater Group and the American Cancer Society. Steve will be greatly missed and remembered for his heroism by all that knew him.
  • Memory Page for Heather DePaolo Johnny 1973-2002
  • July 27, 2007 KNF Elk Complex Remembrance Service Program (4,537 K pdf file)
  • US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: Steven K Oustad | Heather DePaolo-Johnny | John S Self

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Contributors to this article: Mellie, John Wendt, Rob & Cara, Marilyn Townsend, Jim Hutton, Dan Felix, ARCH, Carlson’s NorCal Team 2, Railey’s CIIMT 5, John Miller, RJM

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