Contract faller killed on British Columbia fire

The British Columbia Wildfire Service released this information late Sunday night, July 5, 2015:

We sign off with heavy hearts tonight. We were saddened to learn that a contract tree faller working with us on the Old Sechelt Mine fire suffered a fatal injury while felling a danger tree earlier today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends, family and co-workers.

This is a tragic reminder of the dangerous work being done by personnel across the province to respond to wildfires.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers.

The Old Sechelt Mine Fire has burned 80 hectares (198 acres) since it was discovered July 2 two km northwest of Sechelt.

UPDATE at 7:30 p.m. MT, July 6, 2015: Kelowna Now reports that the coroner has identified the faller as John Joe Phare, age 60, from Roberts Creek.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Mike.


BLM firefighter dies after training

BLMTerry Sonner, a wildland firefighter with the Bureau of Land Management, passed away yesterday, June 10, in Hammett, Idaho.

Below  is a statement from the BLM:

Boise, ID – Terry Sonner, a 33-year old Bureau of Land Management (BLM) firefighter, died yesterday morning after he and his fire crew finished physical training at the Hammett Guard Station. After he collapsed, his crewmembers immediately began medical treatment and called emergency services, but they were not able to revive him.

Sonner, survived by his wife and children, had an extensive wildland firefighting career. He began firefighting in 2001, and over the course of 14 years, he became the Fire Operations Supervisor of the Hammett Guard Station Engine Crew in Hammett, Idaho, for the Boise District BLM. Sonner worked in several BLM Districts, including Twin Falls, Idaho; Elko, Nevada; and Boise, Idaho.

“We have lost an amazing wildland firefighter. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and the wildland firefighting community,” said Andy Delmas, Boise BLM Fire Management Officer.

The cause of Sonner’s death is unknown at this time. BLM has appointed a team to assess the circumstances surrounding Sonner’s death, in hopes of preventing future incidents. Funeral services will be announced as soon as they are determined. Sonner’s family does not wish to be contacted; they ask for privacy during this sensitive time. For more information, please call (208) 384-3420.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Sonner’s family, friends, and co-workers.


Name released of Pack Test victim

The Student Conservation Association has released the name of the person who became ill while taking a firefighter fitness test, the Pack Test, and passed away shortly thereafter. Below is the text of the SCS news release:

SCA mourns the loss of member Ian Haxton

With great sadness, SCA reports that Ian Haxton of Winchester, VA and a member of our Veterans Fire Corps, has passed away unexpectedly while serving at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Sasabe, AZ.

The Veterans Fire Corps trains recent-era military veterans for careers in wildfire mitigation. Ian, a veteran of the US Army, was participating in a federal fire fighter pack test on Saturday, June 6, when he collapsed near the end of the course. Emergency medical teams on site for the exercise responded immediately. Regrettably, despite their best efforts, Ian died en route to a nearby hospital. Results of an autopsy are pending. Ian was 31.

Under the fire fighter pack test, individuals are required to complete a three mile course while wearing a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes. Ian entered into the Fire Corps program on May 17th, 2015.

SCA is providing all available support to his family, his corps mates, and our Fish and Wildlife partners. We are also cooperating with local authorities, and ask that you join us in keeping Ian and his family in your thoughts and prayers.


The U.S. Fire Administration issued this information about the fatality:

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has received notice of the following firefighter fatality:

Name: Ian Haxton
Rank: Veteran Fire Corps Crewmember
Age: 31
Gender: Male
Status: Wildland Part-Time
Years of Service:  Pending
Date of Incident: 06/06/2015
Time of Incident: 0800hrs
Date of Death: 06/06/2015
Fire Department: Student Conservation Association – Veteran Fire Corps

Incident Description: Veteran Fire Corps Crewmember Haxton suffered a medical emergency and collapsed 200 yards from the finish line while participating in the Wildland Firefighter Work Capacity Test. Medical care was immediately rendered by local emergency medical responders who had been staged on-site for the test. Crewmember Haxton was transported to an Advanced Care Facility where he passed away from a nature and cause of injury still to be determined. At the time of the fatal incident, Haxton was serving at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Sasabe, AZ, preparing for a series of prescribed burns scheduled to take place at the Refuge.

Incident Location: Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Sasabe, AZ

Tribute is being paid to Veteran Fire Corps Crewmember Ian Haxton at firefighter-fatalities/


We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of Mr. Haxton.

The Veterans Fire Corps is hosted by the Student Conservation Association. More information about the program.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Veterans Fire Corps”.


An incident management team member reflects on a recent assignment responding to a tragic accident

Catherine J. Hibbard is a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Northeast Regional Office. She is the lead public information officer for the Southern Area Red Team, an incident management team that responds to the most complex incidents such as wildfires and hurricanes. This article about the March 30 helicopter crash in Mississippi first appeared on the USFWS blog.

I know when the call comes, it will be bad, but I never know how bad. On March 30, it was the worst. A helicopter working a controlled burn on the De Soto National Forest in Mississippi had crashed, killing pilot Brandon Ricks and front seat passenger Steve Cobb and seriously injuring backseat passenger Brendan Mullen.

helicopter crash services

Friends and family gather to celebrate the life of Steve Cobb. Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS.

On the morning of March 31, I drove out of a driveway still banked with snow. It was 38 degrees. The daughter of a long line of crusty Yankees, even I had had enough of the Massachusetts winter.

I landed in Mobile, Alabama, and realized that I had been catapulted into spring. With my U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raincoat, fleece jacket and long-sleeved uniform shirt, I was overdressed.

A somber assignment loomed, but life was bursting everywhere in spectral light: pink azaleas and green, green and more green. The smell of freshly cut grass brought me back to when I was a girl watching my father mow the lawn.

My teammates trickled into the command post. Some of them had known Steve Cobb, a local Forest Service employee. “I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in that passenger seat,” at least four of them said.

I saw Art Canterbury, a fellow Northeast Region employee. “This is the first assignment I’ll be away from my family for Easter,” said Art. “Usually I’d stay home, but this is different.”

helicopter crash services

Art Canterbury, a fire management officer at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and Catherine Hibbard were among five U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees responding to the De Soto Aviation Incident. Credit: USFWS.

Our job was to provide support to the co-workers and family of Steve Cobb so they could mourn their loss. We helped provide logistical support for visitation and funeral services. Brandon Ricks was from Oklahoma, so his body was sent home to his family.

Visitation was on Good Friday. I and other information officers were strategically stationed to guide any media who showed up. A cold front was moving in, but the afternoon sun spurted through clouds to cast a warm glow on a steady stream of mourners.

“Can I park here?” asked an older man in a grey pickup truck with cut brush in the bed. He wore a loud, pinstriped suit that was two sizes too big. “Steve was a good man, a good man,” he said. “I’m sorry you lost a friend,” I replied.

“I lost my wife two years ago. I miss her. I‘d like to hang out with someone else, but you know, I like my own space! You look nice. Who do you work for?” “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” “Oh, that’s a good job, a good job. You keep that job! I still cry for my wife. Yes, Steve was a good man. . .”

Another pickup truck pulled up. A young man got out and asked where he could bring some baby “possums.” He must have seen the patch on my uniform. “I don’t want them to die,” he said. He opened the lid on a box in the pickup bed to expose about a dozen young opossums nestled inside. My heart sank as I looked at the helpless creatures, somehow separated from their mother by no choice of their own.

The next morning a curtain of morning rain clouds lifted to a glorious spring day. I stood outside the church with a reporter who recorded the funeral service taking place inside, but broadcast through speakers to the church steps outside. Steve’s supervisor eulogized him: “35,000 Forest Service employees mourn today . . .”

“. . .and many more from the wildland firefighting community,” I thought. I closed my eyes to let the sun warm my face. The air smelled of drying mud. A cardinal and a jay sang. I opened my eyes and saw a bird fly up to a nest in the arch above the church stairs.

helicopter crash services

Red Team Incident Commander Mike Dueitt of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (kneeling in red shirt) was a friend of Steve Cobb. His team’s service honored the fallen firefighters. Credit: USFWS.

After the funeral, a reporter interviewed one of Steve’s friends, a fellow Forest Service employee. “That could have been any of us up there,” he said. The reporter asked him if he wanted to say anything more. “I loved him. I’ll miss him.”  My eyes welled up with tears. I knew that this heartfelt statement was the gem that every reporter hopes for. But the reporter’s camera had failed. He asked if they could do the interview again.

Steve’s friend graciously agreed. I kicked the dirt knowing that the reporter could never get that statement back again. One moment he had great footage and the next it was gone.

During this Public Service Recognition week, I think of Steve and Brandon who gave their lives in public service while doing jobs they loved. And of Brendan Mullen who courageously tried to save his colleagues despite being critically injured himself. He faces a long road to recovery.

I think of how vulnerable we are, how things can change in a minute and the fine line between life and death. I think how lucky I am to work at a job I love (to the man in the pinstriped suit: “Yes, I’ll keep this job!”)

And finally, I think of how proud I am to be a public servant for an agency that supports helping others in their time of need. Because at some point, we all need a rejuvenating spring after a long, hard winter.


California firefighter dies during training

Inmate Firefighter Raymond Araujo suffered a heart attack while engaged in a training exercise on the Morongo Indian Reservation near Banning, California on April 13. The 37-year old firefighter succumbed to his injury after being airlifted to a base camp where he was treated by CAL FIRE and Riverside County Fire Department medics.

The incident occurred in Hathaway Canyon on the Morongo Indian Reservation near Banning, California.

Our sincere condolences go out to his family.