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Remembering the deadliest wildfire in San Luis Obispo County's history

Posted at 6:24 PM, Aug 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-15 22:23:11-04

The Spanish Ranch Fire was and remains the deadliest wildfire in San Luis Obispo County's history. On Thursday, several firefighters who helped battle that fire gathered to remember those who were lost.

A CAL FIRE official said during a ceremony, "This morning, we are here to pay tribute, honor, and remember the four courageous firefighters."

Forty years ago Thursday, the Spanish Ranch Fire sparked near Highway 166 and quickly grew to hundreds of acres.

Four Nipomo firefighters were among those who responded to the scene. They died after fire conditions changed quickly and they were surrounded by flames.

People and firefighters who were on scene of the Spanish Ranch Fire, gathered at the memorial site along Highway 166 to honor Captain Ed Marty, Scott Cox, Ronald Lorant, and Steve Manley.

"We stopped and talked to them probably about ten minutes before they died. I still remember joking with them and everything was kind of light-hearted - 'we're going to catch this fire' - it was really nothing," said Jeff Lannon, a firefighter who responded to the Spanish Ranch Fire.

Lannon says the fire wasn't very active at first, but then everything changed in an instant.

"The wind just came out of nowhere, and it pushed it sideways to the east in what's called an area ignition and I remember making the statement at the time, that it just looked like a river of gasoline going across that ridge," he said.

Lannon says in his almost 40 years of firefighting he's still never seen anything quite like that fire.

Four decades later, CAL FIRE officials say those men and their efforts will never be forgotten.

Thursday's ceremony was held at the Spanish Ranch memorial, located at the entrance of Chimineas Ranch Rd. off Highway 166.

The memorial was built for two reasons: to honor the lives of the firefighters who were lost and to provide a place for firefighters to learn about fire safety.