Olive Through the Ages

Community: Olive Volunteer Fire Department

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Sanborn Map detail, 1928

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The Olive Volunteer Fire Department had its start as a fire brigade after the destruction of the wooden Olive Heights Citrus Association and Olive Hillside Groves packing houses by fire in 1927. With the citrus industry in Olive being significant at that time, both plants were quickly rebuilt: Olive Hillside Groves was built of brick on the same site, and Olive Heights Citrus Association was built of concrete across the street.

The first piece of equipment the fire brigade purchased was a hand-drawn hose cart which they stored in a tin shed on the southeastern corner of Olive Ave. at Buena Vista St., near the Olive Fruit Co. packing house and the Olive Hillside Groves plant across the street.

Olive Volunteer Fire Department, 1940s

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In 1932, fire destroyed Olive Fruit Co., the last of the original, wooden packing houses in Olive. By that time, the Company was no longer operating in the building, but the structure was still in use by Olive Heights Citrus Association for fruit coloring and storage.

Following this incident, local citizens formed the Olive Heights Volunteer Fire Department. The fire district was supported by a portion of the district’s property taxes, independent of the County, and had its own board of directors.

Olive Volunteer Fire Department, 1944

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Their first fire engine was built on the frame of a used, 1926, Moreland school bus donated by the Olive School District, and contained a portable pump set up in the aisle. In an article published by The Los Angeles Times more than 50 years later, Larry Kurtz, who was a volunteer fireman at the station—and many years later would become Fire Captain of the Orange County Fire Authority—laughed about the fire engine as he recalled: "The kids on their bikes could beat it up the hill easy most times."

In 1944, during the World War II era, the fire district fell under management of the County and was reorganized as the Olive Volunteer Fire Department (Orange County Fire Station 20), with 20 members and four board members. The County provided Olive VFD a pump capable of handling 700 gallons of water per minute.

OC Fire Station 20, c1948

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In those days, cash was tight. Fire Captain Kurtz recalled local store owner Dan Ames going door-to-door to collect ten dollars per family for the construction of an adobe firehouse. By summer the next year, the Olive Improvement Association was asking local citizens for donations to help cover the cost of a new, one-and-a-half ton fire truck at $1800.

After the War ended, the Olive Heights Citrus Association donated land for the new firehouse in 1946, and the adobe structure was completed in 1948 on the northwest corner of Lincoln Avenue and Orange-Olive Road, near the packing house.

USGS 1959 map detail

Click/tap the image of Station 20 in 1959 to view it in a separate window.




By the late 1950s, the citrus industry began winding down due to the high cost to maintain groves, and citrus ranch owners began selling their property to land developers. Construction of the 91 Freeway began in the Santa Ana Canyon in the 1960s, and during the 1970s and '80s, the roll area for Station 20 included all responses on the 91 Freeway in the Canyon up to the Riverside County line.

But as the Canyon area further developed, more and more pockets of land were annexed into the surrounding cities, and the Olive VFD response area began to decrease. Later, the land occupied by Station 20 and Olive Height Citrus Association was also sold to a developer, and Station 20 was deactivated in 1996.

On February 23, 1997, a celebration was held at Station 20 to mark the closure of the firehouse. Approximately 400 Olive residents across three generations attended this event, which included a barbeque luncheon and the opening of a 1940s time capsule.

Folks reminisced about many things, including the fire in 1961 that burned pharmacist Lee McClelland’s store in the brick building that stood on the northeastern corner of Orange-Olive Road at Lincoln Avenue. Lee, a gun collector, saw his entire collection go up in smoke with a bang. Residents recall the sky was a-flame, with bullets flying, and the sound of gunpowder exploding.

Firefighters who served the Olive community throughout the years were recognized at the gathering, including the 25 men who staffed the firehouse as paid call volunteers at the time of the station’s closure, and received seven dollars per call, any time; day or night. Station Captain Jim Nielsen addressed the crowd: "These are your firefighters. This is your crew. We're very proud to be a part of your community."

Station 20, 1982

Click/tap the image of Station 20 in 1982 to view it in a separate window.




By the end of the year, the adobe building was razed along with the packing house, and in the following year, the Greystone Crossings tract was built on that site.

Though the positions of the volunteers have since been replaced by full-time professionals from the Orange County Fire Authority, the service of the Olive Volunteers Fire Department to the Olive community will not be forgotten.

- Daralee, August 18, 2018

Sources: The Los Angeles Times, Orange County Edition: "Community News Focus: End of an Era for Olive Fire Station," by Lesley Wright, February 21, 1997; and "Kindling Memories: Community Bids Farewell to 194 Fire Station, Set to Be Torn Down," by Janet Wilson, February 24, 1997; Olive Improvement Association bulletin from June 26, 1945; "Historic Fire Station Closes" News Release from Orange County Fire Authority, February 19, 1997, (http://www.ocfa.org/press/pr_1997/pr_stn20.htm), accessed August 31, 2004; Orange County Fire Authority Open House exhibit information in Irvine, CA, May 20, 2017 provided by Tom Hoffmann.


Olive fire of 1961

Roger Fitschen, who worked for the City of Orange Fire Department from 1971 to 2012, submitted the black-and-white photos from his collection of the 1961 fire in Olive.

Click/tap the thumbnail images below to view larger images in a separate browser window or tab:

Olive market, 1961 fire
This image shows the Olive Food Market during the fire of 1961.   Olive post office, 1961 fire This image shows the Olive Food Market and Post Office during the fire of 1961.
Olive pharmacy, 1961 fire
This image shows the Olive pharmacy during the fire of 1961.   Olive fire, 1961 Aftermath of the 1961 fire in Olive. (Photo courtesy Orange Public Library Collection.)

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