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S.C.V. History
September 25
1970 - Lagasse family helps save Mentryville buildings as Newhall and Malibu brush fires erupt & join into worst fire in SoCal history. Twelve fires over 10 days burn 525,000 acres, kill 13 people and destroy approx. 1,500 structures. [story]
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U.S. Rep. Steve Knight held a press conference Tuesday morning to announce and present the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Castaic Wilderness Act.

About 50 Santa Clarita Valley leaders, residents, Native Americans and St. Francis Dam historians attended the event at Tesoro Adobe Historic Park.

This is something that shouldn’t have happened but we did learn a lot from it,” said Knight, R-Palmdale, who recently took a tour of the dam site. “We’re going to fight and fight, tooth and nail. Understand that legislation is a fluid acton. This is a process, this is something that we want, this is something overdue, something that should have been done many, many years ago.”

Rep.-Steve-Knight-Holds-St.-Francis-Dam-Disaster-Castaic-Wilderness-Press-Conference-5Tataviam Tribal Captain Rudy Ortega Jr.and tribe member Ray Rivera performed traditional bird songs and a tobacco blessing for those lost in the disaster.

“As the years and decades rolled on, this second worst disaster in California history, and really, one of the worst disasters in all of American history has been mostly forgotten along with the victims of the dam break,” said Alan Pollack, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. “Now, 87 years later, we have seen few attempts at memorializing the many victims of the St. Francis Dam disaster at the site itself.”

The Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Castaic Wilderness Act, H.R. 3153, would authorize a national memorial to commemorate the more than 400 people killed by the collapse of the St. Francis Dam on March 12, 1928, according to officials.

Rep.-Steve-Knight-Holds-St.-Francis-Dam-Disaster-Castaic-Wilderness-Press-Conference-3“All peoples of this area — past, present and future — regardless of heritage or belief, are to be honored. We will never know what their final thoughts were or their fears of their final words or their absolution, we do not blame anyone for this. instead, we are grateful for lessons learned,” said Charles F. Cullen Jr.,a descendant of the Ruiz family, who were killed in the flood. “Approximately 31,404 days have passed since this tragedy occurred. It would be yet another tragedy should one more day pass without this memorial.”

The bill would also help educate the public about the historical event.

“This is bigger than all of us. I didn’t know how powerful this was going to be,” said Stephanie Acista, a Ruiz family descendant. “My Nana always said the water will always follow its path and the water will take whatever is in its path and that’s what happened.”

Rep.-Steve-Knight-Holds-St.-Francis-Dam-Disaster-Castaic-Wilderness-Press-Conference-4Different from H.R. 5357, the H.R. 3153 bill also seeks to designate about 69,000 acres of surrounding federal lands as wilderness due to its historic and environmental significance, according to officials.

H.R. 3153 would protect Native American burial grounds and protect species, Cullen said.

“There’s a lot of areas sacred to us (in Castaic), there’s a lot of rock up there, there’s medicine up there that we believe in,” Ortega said. “It’s a vital nest to protect these sites. For everyone here. If we lose all this, it doesn’t matter if we lose our way of life, we lose the way we think society is, it’s nature, the simplicity of life.”

The wilderness area is expected to improve the water quality of the creeks that feed into Castaic Lake, protect dozens of endangered species, Native American habitation sites and burial grounds, condor habitat, and the largest grove of Black Oak in the state of California, according to a press release.

“This is I think the most important legislation in this district for a long, long time,” Erskine-Hellrigel said. “It will not only memorialize the dam and pay homage to the people that died there but it will also protect all of those Native American sites that are so important.”

If approved, H.R. 3153 will establish a national memorial to honor the victims of the Saint Francis Dam disaster of March 12, 1928, create the Saint Francis Dam Advisory Commission to plan the memorial and work in conjunction with the Department of Interior, permanently protect the memorial site and surrounding area of the Saint Francis Dam, educate the general public on this tragic event that may be America’s worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century and the worst flood in the state of California’s history and designate the Saint Francis Dam National Monument, according to officials.

“Many thanks to Congressman Steve Knight for his foresight in protecting 69,000 acres of pristine wilderness for generations to come, and for having the federal government acknowledge the greatest civil engineering tragedy in the United States, the Saint Francis Dam failure,” said California Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R- Santa Clarita, in a previous story. “This memorial will honor those that had fallen and will help bring closure to friends and families.”

Rep. Buck McKeon, Knight’s predecessor, introduced a similar bill, H.R. 5357, the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial Act, nearly a year ago but retired before the bill went through.

Rep.-Steve-Knight-Holds-St.-Francis-Dam-Disaster-Castaic-Wilderness-Press-Conference

H.R. 3153 was introduced to the House of Representatives Wednesday, July 22, and Knight’s office believes the bill will head to the House Committee on Natural Resources next.

The construction of the dam began in August of 1924 and began to fill with water on March 1, 1928. A little more than two-and-a-half minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, the dam failed.

The wall of water, 55 feet taller than the original Colossus’ tallest hill at Six Flags Magic Mountain, crashed through San Francisquito Canyon and reached the Pacific Ocean just south of Ventura. It took the immense wave five-and-a-half hours to reach the ocean.

An estimated 431 people were killed.

The failure of the St. Francis Dam is known as the second-worst disaster in California history, coming behind the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires, and America’s worst civil engineering failure of the 20th century, according to SCVHistory.

For more information about the St. Francis Dam Disaster, go to the SaintFrancisDam.com.

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Ken Raleigh says:

    The St. Francis Dam Memorial is a good idea.

    But we don’t need 70,000 acres of federal Wilderness to honor the St. Francis Dam disaster. Currently, the 70,000 acres of land is under the management of our local US Forest Service. If anyone in the community has an issue with such management, they can go visit the USFS and make a proposal or complaint. If the USFS wants to act, a public notice and meeting would likely follow before they make any decision. But it is a local process that WE can participate in.

    If these 70,000 acres are designated as a Wilderness, nothing can be done with this land. No new campsites, no new trails … nothing the community of Santa Clarita might want 25 or 50 years from now. To make any management changes, we would need an Act of Congress and the President’s signature.

    Why would the people of SCV want to relinquish what little control they currently have over these 70,000 acres?

    • Hardin Rich says:

      I agree with Ken Raleigh. Although, I think it is fair to ask why after, all these years, is the SCVHS et. al. in such a rush to push through this legalization for a project that up until late they, themselves, appear to have had little, if any, interest in?
      A memorial is one thing and a good one. This idea that 70,000 acres, which as noted is currently managed by the US Forest Service, be designated as Wilderness is unnecessary and not a well thought out rider which may not only hinder passage now, it may block more purposeful acts in the future.

  2. TimBen Boydston says:

    Speaking as a Santa Clarita City Councilman, I was disappointed to hear that apparently people in Washington DC were led to believe that the City Council of Santa Clarita endorsed the entire bill. Actually the Council only voted to endorse the establishment of a Memorial. I do not know what my fellow Council members would vote with regard to the proposed wilderness designation, but it would be prudent for the Council to have a hearing so that our local citizens of the SCV would have an opportunity to be heard on this issue. Then, we could advise our esteemed Congressman what we believe would be the best course of action.

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