It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to you to inform you of the line-of-duty death of three firefighting personnel while serving and protecting the citizens of Colorado.
Fire Chief Terry DeVore and firefighter John Schwartz, Jr. of the Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department were killed late yesterday afternoon while fighting the Ordway wildland fire. Chief DeVore and firefighter Schwartz were killed in their fire apparatus while trying to cross a bridge over a drainage ditch about a mile west of Ordway. Due to heavy smoke conditions they were apparently unaware that the fire had already damaged or collapsed the bridge.
Gert Marais, 42, of Fort Benton, Montana, a U.S. Forest Service contract pilot was killed when his Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) crashed while fighting the wildland fire at Fort Carson. Pilot Marais crashed about 6:20 yesterday evening along Colorado 115 at mile marker 34 near Fort Carson. Marais worked for Aero Applicators, a Sterling company that contracts aerial firefighting services to the U.S. Forest Service.
Both Chief DeVore, 30, and firefighter Schwartz, 38, were volunteers with Olney Springs and worked full-time as correctional officers for the Colorado Department of Corrections at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility.
Chief DeVore is survived by his wife Jennifer and four children, ages 10 to 4. Chief DeVore’s father, Bruce, is also a volunteer firefighter with Olney Springs and was also involved in fighting the Ordway fire. Firefighter Schwartz is the father of four boys, ages 4 to 16.
The Local Assistance State Team (LAST) has been dispatched to Ordway to assist the local fire department. A separate team has been made available to Aero Applicators and the U.S. Forest Service.
On behalf of Chief Douglas Forsman, President of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs’ Association, we wish to offer our deepest condolences to the families of Fire Chief Terry DeVore and firefighter John Schwartz, Jr., the members of the Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department, and the Colorado Department of Corrections. Our deepest condolences are also extended to the family of pilot Gert Marais and the employees of Aero Applicators.
Colorado State Fire Chiefs’ Association
Paul L. Cooke, Executive Director
The spot weather forecast for the TA25 fire, on which the SEAT crashed, predicts rain later this afternoon and 2-4 inches of heavy wet snow tonight.
This site has photographs of the two firefighters killed in the engine accident.
UPDATE, December 30, 2008
The NTSB has released their report about the air tanker crash. More information is HERE.