Rattlesnake Firefighter Trailhead

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

Parking area and trail that travels the routes taken by the firefighters who died and those who survived the 1953 Rattlesnake Fire.

[Photograph]: Photographs and memorial for the fallen firefighters of the Rattlesnake Fire. [Photograph]: New Tribes Mission Bell at the Rattlesnake Fire Interpretive Site [Photograph]: Ruth (Rowe) and brother, Herb Whitehouse, by fire bell at New Tribes Mission. [Photograph]: Family in front of fire bell at New Tribes Mission, July 1953. [Photograph]: Whitehouse family photo at New Tribes Mission.

At a Glance

Area Amenities: Interpretive Site,Picnic tables,Toilets,Parking
Open Season: January
Closest Towns: Elk Creek, CA
Water: None
Restroom: 1 Vault
Information Center: Stonyford Work Center - Open Tuesday thru Saturday, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM - (530) 963-3128

General Information

General Notes:

On July 9, 1953, a brush fire was reported in Grindstone Canyon several miles northwest of Elk Creek on the Mendocino National Forest. As the fire raged out of control, the Forest Service requested volunteers from the New Tribes Mission that was located about 25 miles south of the fire to help.

That evening, the main fire was contained and 24 men were sent down into the canyon to put out a spot fire. After this was accomplished, the crew sat down to eat their supper. They had just begun to eat when the wind shifted direction and the original fire jumped its line and started down the canyon.

One of the firefighters from above ran down to warn the crew to get out of the canyon. Nine of the men scrambled up the hill to the firefighter who was warning them and made it to safety. The other 15 men tried to run down the canyon to a road below, but were overtaken by the rapidly moving fire.

Fourteen firefighters from the New Tribes Mission and one Forest Service employee from the Mendocino National Forest lost their lives making it one of the deadliest in Forest Service history. The brush fire burned over 1300 acres before being brought under control on July 11, 1953.

Response to the tragedy led to changes in wildland fire training, firefighter safety standards, firefighter knowledge and awareness of fire weather and fire behavior. The Rattlesnake Fire is reviewed every year by wildland firefighters across the nation in basic firefighting training and fire refresher training as part of "Lessons Learned".

In 1993 the Mendocino National Forest commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Fire with a memorial service at the Grindstone Overlook on Forest Highway 7. A large boulder bearing a plaque with the names of the fallen firefighters was dedicated. A kiosk there states that the tragic loss on the Rattlesnake Fire spurred the Forest Service to increase firefighter training and research on fire hazard management.

A ceremony, held July 9, 2005, dedicated a new interpretive and training site that overlooks the location of the fire in Grindstone Canyon, along the old Alder Springs Road. The Rattlesnake Fire Overlook features exhibits describing the events of the fire and lessons learned from the tragedy. Nearby there is a new parking area leading to a trail that travels the routes taken by the firefighters who died and those who survived.

For additional information please contact the Mendocino National Forest in Willows at (530) 934-3316, TTY (530) 934-7724.

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Picnic tables 1
Interpretive Site fire history
Toilets vault
Parking limited
Areas & Activities



  Area/Length : 
¼ mile

  Latitude : 

  Longitude : 

  Elevation : 
2,100 feet


[Graphic]: Map displaying the Mendocino National Forest and surrounding area.

Mendocino National Forest Location Map »