From: Dave Mendenhall
Sent: Friday, October 10, 2008

Here is an excerpt from my dad's memoirs relating to a fire on the mountain in 1928:

In the fall of 1928 there was a great fire that destroyed all the timber on the north part of the Palomar mountain range. It was started by a man who had a place about two miles to the north, and he wanted to burn out some foxes that had holed up in a brushy area. The fire got away from him, the dry East wind caught it and away it went up the mountain slopes and burned for two or three weeks. The fire spread over a large area and grew on itself. The trees, brush, and grass were tinder dry, the heat of the fire intensified the blast of the wind, producing "fire storms" in the pocket canyons. there were no bulldozers then, and no roads in the rough area to get trucks in, so the work was done by men on foot. Teams of firefighters came from far and wide and there must have been 600 or so before it was over. Of course all the Mendenhalls wherever located dropped whatever they were doing and came to help, also people we might have had petty differences with. When there is a fire, all grudges are forgotten. The winds were capricious, and it was said the fire traveled every direction of the compass. Papa and I went to check on a mountain man named Gus Weber, who had a place a mile or so north of what is known as French Valley. He was a ranger and lived there with his artist wife, had a few cattle and raised the most delicious strawberries. The mountain people would come and gorge on them. To protect his stuff from the fire he had dug a great big hole where he intended to bury his furniture, and let the approaching fire take his house. But he lucked out -- the roaring fire came within twenty feet of his property line, suddenly changed direction and his house and belongings were saved!
At one point the crew thought they had the fire licked. They had control all around except a quarter mile strip and the wind was taking the fire another direction, the cold night reduced the intensity, so the tired men bedded down. During the night the wind shifted and next morning the fire whipped through there and went wild again, roaring up the next slope. Up to that time most of the burn had been on government owned land, but now it was headed for the ranches and homes. A ranger had been in charge of the men. By orders of the headquarters he was not allowed to set any backfires. which was the policy then. It was obvious that there was no way to stop the fire except with a backfire, so he went home to Riverside and turned over the command to George Mendenhall and Ralph Tillinghast, another mountain man. They set a backfire extending from the French Valley to Warner's Ranch -- a length of about ten miles, which finally stopped the fire, which had no place to go.
We all somehow crammed into the upper ranch house at night, and the women did their best to cook food for us as we straggled in, tired and dirty, I was too young (13) to grub brush on the fire line so I was water boy. With canteens hung on my saddle I took water to tired men camped all along the Mendenhall Valley. Some hadn't slept for two nights. The nights were freezing cold and they built fires to keep warm and that was a worry because the fire might spread in the dry grass while the men slept.
It was during the back firing that Papa almost got in trouble. When you are working a back fire against the wind you start from an open area or even just a trail and burn a narrow strip that burns back to the trail, then you go upwind for more width until you have a wide strip the wild fire can't jump across. Using the Mendenhall Valley as a start, Papa, Happy, Judge, and some others set a line to stop the flames roaring up from the Barker Canyon, which is to the north. They had to set the brush on fire, then escape up a steep and rocky trail. They got it going pretty well and all arrived back up the trail except Papa. The smoke and heat were getting more intense and soon the cry went out, "Has anyone seen Charlie?", and soon it was panicky, "Where's Charlie?". At the last minute he emerged at full speed on his terrified horse. He later said he didn't get scorched, but the horse's tail might have been singed some.