USDA Forest Service

Six Rivers National Forest


Ukonom Hotshots

Orleans/Ukonom Ranger District

P.O Box 410, Orleans, CA, 95556




Ukonom Hotshots

Prior to the National Fire Plan in 2000, the Six Rivers National Forest’s crew history had been comprised only of various BD (Brush Disposal) and 10-person Initial Attack crews.  As part of what became known as the MEL (Most Efficient Level) build-up, the Six Rivers N.F. Fire Chief John Wendt and Deputy Forest Fire Chief Kent Swartzlander decided to replace the 4 districts’ existing 10-person IA crews with Hotshot Crews.

 In April of 2003, Six Rivers Crew 2 was formed on the Orleans/Ukonom Ranger District of the Six Rivers N.F.  as a Type 2 IA crew with the goal of becoming the first certified Hotshot Crew in the History of the Six Rivers National Forest. Under the leadership of John W. Gibbons, a veteran of 30+ fire seasons, Crew 2 set upon this mission with great vigor and enthusiasm.   The crew was stationed on the Orleans District of the Six Rivers, and worked out of the Oak Bottom Fire Station in Somes Bar on the Ukonom Ranger District of the Klamath N. F. which is administered by the Six Rivers N.F. 

The first couple of years of the crew’s development had their share of highs and lows.  The crew was able to reach Type 1 status in July of 2004, but fell short on their first attempt at Hotshot certification that August.  To complicate matters, the crew lost one of their founding Squad Bosses, Robert Shufelt, to a serious back injury.  However, the crew never lost sight of their goals, persevered through these setbacks, and began to establish a solid reputation within the firefighting community.

In 2005 the decision was made to adopt the name of the Ukonom district and the crew became known as the Ukonom Handcrew.  The “Coyote that steals the fire”, a prominent character in local Karuk tribal lore, was incorporated into the crew logo.  In 2006, Supt. Gibbons was forced by retirement law to leave the federal service with 33 years of firefighting experience.  Captain John Cataldo was then promoted to Superintendent, and Squad Boss Keith Smith was promoted to Captain, and the process of building towards Hotshot status was continued.   

In May of 2008, a USFS Region 5 Safety First Hotshot Crew Certification Team comprised of Team Leader Don Will, Salmon River IHC Superintendent Jimmy Allen, and subject-matter-expert Ed Merrill performed an intensive 2-day evaluation of the Ukonom Handcrew.  On May 22, 2008 the Ukonom Hotshots were certified as the 1st Hotshot Crew in the history of the Six Rivers National Forest, the 15th in Northern California, the 41st in Region 5, and the 105th Hotshot Crew in the Nation.

In April of 2010, after 8 years of confusion and debate within the USFS Region 5 Hotshot community as to whether the Hotshot crews that were certified within the region as part of the MEL build-up were to be considered Interagency or Regional Hotshot Crews, the Washington Office issued a directive that all Hotshot crews in Region 5 are to be identified as Interagency Hotshot Crews.  Ukonom IHC is dedicated to earning that designation every day through hard work and strict adherence to our core values of Safety, Duty, Respect, Integrity, and Professionalism.

The Ukonom Interagency Hotshot Crew  prides itself on having an exceptional work ethic that dates back to the early days of Hotshot crews, and are always willing to put in the extra chain of line, and be first ones up and the last ones off the hill each day.

Squad Leaders


Robert D. Shufelt 2003-2004

Joseph S. Kennedy 2003-2005

Keith R. Smith 2006

Dale A. Mendes 2007 – 2010

Zachary W. Allen 2006 – 2011

Thomas J. Hawkins 2011 – Present

Alexander M. Miyagishima 2011-Present



John P. Cataldo 2003-2006

Randall E. Nulph 2003 – 2009

Keith R. Smith 2006 –2010

Donald C. Perez 2010            

Dale A. Mendes 2011 –Present

Robert McConnell Jr.  2012 - Present




John W. Gibbons 2003 -2006

John P. Cataldo 2006 – 2010

Keith R. Smith 2011 – Present