Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Started in 1981, Alpine Hotshots are celebrating their 25th season in 2006.

Alpine Hotshots Celebrate 25 Years

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The National Park Service established its Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) program in May, 1981, making these the first Hotshot crews funded by any Department of the Interior agency. The three crews were known as Arrowhead 1, 2, and 3. In 1982, the names of the crews were changed to Alpine IHC, Arrowhead IHC and Bison IHC. These names were derived from symbols contained in the National Park Service emblem. In 1985, budget constraints eliminated the Bison IHC from the program.

The Early Years without a Permanent Base

The Alpine IHC was administered from the NPS fire management office at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) from 1981 until 1988. The crew was assigned to several different duty stations during this time period, including Cumberland Island National Seashore, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, and Mount Rainier National Parks.c While in California the crew was based out of Malibu at Camp 8 and in Oregon they based out of the old Rogue River Hotshot base. From 1988 to 1991 the crew was stationed at Zion National Park, although they never lived there. Their base of operations during 1988 was Brianhead Ski area and a small motel in Parowan, Utah from 1989 - 1991.

Alpine was the first crew ordered for the Yellowstone fires in 1988. The crew spent a week on the 700 acre Falls Fire west of the south entrance of Yellowstone prior to the massive mobilization of interagency resources. They also participated in a major burnout operation around Grant Village while fighting the Red-Shoshone Fire.

During the Dude Fire on June 26, 1990 three members of Alpine and four Forest Service hotshots were involved with life saving actions of a burned firefighter. Unfortunately, six other firefighters perished when they were overrun by fire. The entire crew received national commendations and Superintendent Jim Mattingly, Squad Boss David Niemi and EMT Bill Moe received the NPS Valor Award.

Zion could not provide permanent housing so the crew was moved to Wind Cave National Park for the 1992 season. The actual base of operations was located in an old coal gasification plant on the southeast side of Rapid City, South Dakota. The highlights of that season included a tour to Voyageurs NP in Minnesota and extensive time spent in the Salmon River Breaks country of Idaho.

Establishing a Permanent Base of Operations

Following the 1992 season, a number of bids to host the crew were received from various parks. The decision to place the Alpine crew at Rocky Mountain National Park was based on a number of considerations including support capability, project work availability and especially the park's offer to construct new dormitory facilities for a permanent base of operations. The crew spent its first season living and working out of the historic "Blister Rust" dorm, built in the 1930's and once utilized to house crews conducting white pine blister rust control. Interestingly enough while the crew was stationed at Yellowstone, its base of operations was in that park's version of the "Blister Rust" dorm located in the Canyon District.

Construction was completed on the new dorm and work center facility in the spring of 1994 and the crew has called it home ever since. It came complete with kitchen facilities, quadruple occupancy dorm rooms, restrooms/showers, living/training/dining room, exercise/weight room, laundry room, small dry goods cache and a squad boss office. The deck was constructed out of the lumber salvaged from the lift house from the closed Hidden Valley Ski Area.

Project work at the park over the years has consisted of prescribed fire support, hazard fuels mitigation, snow shoveling at Alpine Visitor Center, front country trail work on both sides of the park, demolition of the Hidden Valley Ski Area lift house, restoration work at Hidden Valley, landscaping of the dorm site, structure defense thinning at Leiffer Cabin and providing various fire training to park employees.

The crew has also assisted with a variety of projects including prescribed fire support, hazard fuel thinning and trail work at a great number of parks around the country including Voyageurs, Isle Royale, Pipestone, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, Bandelier, Saguaro, Grand Canyon, Pipe Springs, Zion, Bryce, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, Lava Beds, Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Golden Gate, Fort Clatsop, Channel Islands, Santa Monica Mountains, Gulf Islands, Big Cypress, Blue Ridge Parkway, Buffalo River and Bent's Old Fort.

The majority of fire assignments have been away from the vicinity of Rocky Mountain NP except during the summer of 2002 when Colorado experienced a record fire year. The crew has fought fire and implemented prescribed fires in all the western states, Alaska, Canada (Ontario, Alberta), Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Arkansas.

Alpine IHC Superintendent Information

Years Superintendent Current Position
1981-1984 Jon Larson Retired AK Smokejumper
1984-1987 John Comery Fire Investigator, ATF
1987 Paul Borcherding Helicopter Manager, BLM - Nevada
1988-1992 Jim "JP" Mattingly Fire Operations Specialist, NPS - MWRO
1992 Gary Benson Rogue River District FMO, Siskiyou NF
1993-1997 Jim "JP" Mattingly Fire Operations Specialist, NPS - MWRO
1997-2006 David Niemi Acting FMO, Rocky Mountain National Park
2006 Chris Kirby Acting Superintendent, Alpine IHC

Contact: Chris Kirby
Phone: 970-586-1318