Breaking News
More () »

June 26, 1990: Remembering deadly Dude Fire near Payson that killed 6

Scorching temperatures, dry conditions and thunderstorms blasted the Dude Fire in different directions creating a dangerous situation for those on the firelines.

PAYSON, Ariz. — Editor's Note: The above video is from April 2020 coverage about inmate fire crews preparing for fire season. 

June 26, 1990 was the hottest day on record in Phoenix with temperatures reaching 122 degrees. 

But as Phoenicians battled scolding conditions that were hot enough to crack sidewalks and melt shoes soles, a fire fight was happening north of the Valley that would claim the lives of six. 

The state of Arizona was gripped by sweltering heat in June of 1990.

Scorching temperatures, dry conditions and thunderstorms north of Payson would lay the groundwork for what would be known as the Dude Fire, named after Dude Creek, according to the Rim Country Museum

RELATED: Lone Granite Mountain Hotshot to live talks about surviving

On June 25, 1990 a lightning bolt ignited a ghastly blaze that would grow from 5 acres to nearly 30,000 acres across Tonto, Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests, historians say. 

The next day the fire, further fueled by heat, dry winds and a thunderstorm, blasted the fire in different directions. 

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group reported crews were working in steep mountainous terrain, communication with crews in the air broke down due to radio frequency issues and confusion ensued during a shift change.

RELATED: Meet the VLAT, the country's most powerful firefighting tool

The fire overtook firefighters in Walk Moore Canyon. Six volunteers from the Perryville State Prison died--five inmates and their supervisor. Five others were injured. 

Six crosses were put up in Walk Moore Canyon to remember the lives of Sandra Bachman, James Denny, Curtis Springfield, James Ellis, Joseph Chacon and Alex Contreras, according to the Rim Country Museum.  

Historians noted the aftermath of this tragic day led to improvements in safety gear and communication technology. 

See historical photos from the Dude Fire here.

The Dude Fire burned 24,174 acres.

More Articles: 

- Woman dies while hiking South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

- 30th anniversary of hottest day on record

- Cave Creek couple makes miraculous discovery after returning from destructive Ocotillo Fire

- APS donates $229,000 to Yarnell hotshot memorial park

- Father of Granite Mountain Hotshot is glad movie will tell their story

Paid Advertisement

Before You Leave, Check This Out