Much of the credit for the formation of the Kern
Valley Interagency Hotshot Crew lies with former Bakersfield
District FMO Rick Haffenfeld. In the early eighties, Rick often had
trouble getting resources to his fires, especially hotshot crews.
Rick viewed having a hotshot crew on the district as a solution, and
after obtaining support from State FMO Pat Kidder and Bakersfield
District Manager Bob Reihner, he started the process of putting
together a crew. He began with the selection of a Superintendent.
Rick’s quest to find the right person for the job took him to the
nearby Los Padres National Forest. In the spring of 1983, a 26 year
old Anthony Escobar reported for duty.
The crew was initially a collection of BLM and Forest
Service firefighters knows as Crew 6 who worked out of the Blackrock
Work Center on the Sequoia National Forest. Rick’s plan in the
early years was to find the crew work by sending them to Alaska
early in the season. As the season progressed, the crew would move
south bringing with them many of the Alaska personnel. From the
Alaska bunch the crew gained several hotshots and smokejumpers, most
notably Mike Bowls, who would go on to be Captain 1A. Other
noteworthy additions to the crew were Phil Hawkins and Joe Caldwell
who came from the Susanville BLM. For key positions, Anthony chose
people he had worked with on the LPF. Among these were Ray Ruiz and
Brian Fennessy (Buster). Brian would go on to become Captain 1B.
In 1985 Anthony became a BLM permanent employee and
all the crewmembers were now strictly BLM. The crew was stationed
at Chimney Peak Fire Station. The ‘Peak’ as it was known consisted
of three large trailers and a mess hall. The station was powered by
generator and lacked phone service. The crewmembers stayed in small
two-person travel trailers situated uphill from the station. The
1985 fire season was busy and several large fires burned in Southern
California. During the Wheeler Ridge fire near Ojai the crew was
able to turn the corner on a key piece of line enabling containment
of the 180,000-acre fire. Anthony regards this fire as the seminal
point when the crew became a hotshot crew. At this time there was
no formal process for certifying hotshot crews. Through informal
peer recognition by the R5 hotshot crew superintendents present, the
crew was a hotshot crew. The crew would come to be designated
as Crew 1, the Kern Valley Interagency Hotshot Crew.
In 1986, the Crew had begun working on the Pacific
Crest Trail pioneering in the least accessible portion known as the
Spanish needles section. In 1986 crewmembers hiked in 10 sections
of 20 foot long channel iron and an oxygen acetylene torch and built
an iron structure into the hillside to hold the trail in place.
This area came to be known as the “Iron Works.”
In the spring of 1988 several crewmembers came on
early to work the trail, among them was Ron Napoles. The small crew
pioneered trail north, using Pionjars, rock bars and picks. A
certified blaster, Anthony and various crewmembers would drill and
blast rocks and stumps from the path as needed. In May of that year
the crew tied in the final section of the Spanish needles;
connecting the last open portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in
California. The 1988 fire season was very active. Most notable was
a 38 day trip spent mostly on large fires in and around Yellowstone
In the years from 1989-1993 the Crew was stationed
out of the vacated Kern County Fire station 42 on Niles Street. The
station was equipped with a kitchen, barracks, offices and large
engine bays. In 1990 Ron Napoles was selected as a crew foreman and
took over the A-Module.
The 1994 fire season began with the crew moving to
the newly constructed Bakersfield Field Office. Long time captain
Jesus Robles left the Crew and a new group emerged. The Crew
acquired a small group of high performers in Ken Bell, Leif
Mathiesen, and Heath Cota. The Crew remained largely relevant as a
line cutting crew- pulling off strong shifts when it mattered. The
Crew made appearances at the 1993 Marre Fire, 1994 South Canyon
Fire, 1996 Ackerson Complex and the 1999 Kirk Fire.
In 2001, Anthony Escobar accepted the Assistant Fire
Management Officer position on the Bakersfield BLM and moved down
the hall. Among his responsibilities was supervising the crew. Ron
Napoles was selected to the Superintendent position and Leif
Mathiesen the Assistant.
Valley Hotshots have had a total of 3 crew superintendents and all
have worked together and with each other on the Crew. There is only
one contiguous version of the Kern Valley Hotshots. The initial
approach, lessons, values, and work processes simply continue to be
improved and refined to meet new challenges.