Remembering Fire Fighters killed in 1981 Ransom Fire

On Sunday, June 7, 1981, lightning from a thunderstorm started several fires in the Ransom Road area of Merritt Island NWR, which smoldered through the night.

About noon on Monday, June 8, three fires were reported which the refuge staff responded to.

Beau Sauselein and Scott Maness were working together as a tractor crew on a John Deere 550 and fireplow. Beau was tractor operator and Scott was the observer. They had plowed around the easternmost fire on Ransom Road while other crews worked at backfiring and manning pumpers on Ransom Road. Beau and Scott transported the tractor and began to plow around the east side of the second fire. During the fire suppression efforts, winds had been generally southerly. While they were plowing this fireline, a thunderstorm approached from the west. Winds preceding the storm suddenly switched direction with gusts up to 45 knots. 

Apparently, realizing the wind shift, Beau picked the fireplow up and began to move away from the fire. During this effort, the tractor became stumped. Beau and Scott abandoned the tractor and attempted to flee on foot. Thick brush and palmetto as high as 8 feet made outrunning the fire impossible. They selected a site and deployed a single fire shelter in which they both entered. Beau had left his fire shelter on the tractor. The fire shelter was designed for one man, and for exposure to radiant heat only, not direct flames. Beau and Scott died as a result of their burns.

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Beau was born on March 4, 1948, in Wilmington, Delaware. He graduated from the Rising Sun High School and attended the University of Delaware and received an A.A.S. degree in 1968 in Animal and Plant Science.

In 1969, Beau enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and shortly after he fulfilled his military obligation, began his professional career in 1974 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a biological technician at the St. Johns NWR. Beau enjoyed and excelled in a variety of outdoor activities. He was a skilled pilot having achieved since 1973, private pilot instrument, multi-engine and instructor ratings. His love for the water led him to fishing, sailing, and being active in the Titusville Yacht Club and Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Beau’s professional career is an example to us all of his dedication to the wildlife resource, exhibited by the excellent quality of his work. Every project he undertook was completed on time, with meticulous care, and needing little supervision.

Beau was significantly involved with the dusky seaside sparrow management and implementation of the Recovery Plan at St. Johns and Merritt Island NWR. He was regarded as one the refuge’s best law enforcement officers, heavy equipment operators, boat handlers, and so forth. On several occasions, the USFWS recognized Beau’s excellence and contribution to the wildlife resource.

Scott was born on September 14, 1948, in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from New Trier High School in 1967. He received his B.S. degree from California State University at Sonoma, having previously attended the University of Wyoming, and Orange Coast Community college. Following three years service as a research zoologist for the Peace Corps, he returned to CSU and earned a M.A. degree in Biology. Scott began his professional career with the USFWS in 1980 at Merritt Island NWR. His major interest was reptile and crocodilian biology, although he was totally involved in all aspects of the wildlife resource.

Scott undertook the expansion of the refuge’s monitoring and herpetological inventory projects. Several specimens collected by Scott were new finds for the refuge. He also initiated an alligator nest location and production survey and improved the refuge’s alligator censusing project.

Scott received a letter of commendation for his work as an interpreter for several Latin American visiting conservationists, participating in the USFWS International Affairs program for conservation education. In all ways, Scott’s concern and enthusiasm for the wildlife resource caused him to excel in his work.

On November 1 and 2, 2017, the USFWS held a memorial dedication and staff ride at the Merritt Island refuge in Florida. These events were in honor of two fallen firefighters and their families from events that occurred 36 years ago on June 8, 1981.

Not knowing how we take care of our own today, there were some who were anxious about the events. In the end, the family and peers of the fallen who attended were able to realize a healing closure that was long over due.

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