Arizona: Rick Lupe honored at Wildland Firefighter memorial

Rick Lupe’s brother Randy and his three surviving sons, Daniel, Shawn and Brent raise the flag at the Wildland Firefighter Memorial in a November 21 ceremony in Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona. The bronze statue can be seen in the background on the left.

Following the 2002 Rodeo-Chedeski fire and the tragic death of Rick Lupe a year later, Richard Genck, a 16-year old Eagle Scout, had an idea to erect a memorial in the town of Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona (map) to honor Lupe and all wildland firefighters. Genck went door to door collecting donations from local businesses and residents, found someone to donate their time to make a wax sculpture, and then had it cast in bronze.

The statue was erected in 2005. This year a local business donated a flagpole and on November 21 the flag was raised by Lupe’s family during a ceremony honoring him and all wildland firefighters.

Lupe and his hotshot crew were instrumental in suppressing the Rodeo-Chedeski fire that burned more than 460,000 acres and caused the evacuation of 30,000 people. He was featured in an article about that fire in the Arizona Republic on July 7, 2002. Here is how the article begins, but unfortunately you have to pay to read the whole piece:

Rick Lupe was leaning on the hood of his ash-stained silver pickup, his black baseball cap pulled low over his forehead and his dark eyes blazing out of brown sunglasses. Lupe, a division supervisor on the “Rodeo-Chediski” fire, was running a part of the fireline that was crucial not only to this city’s survival but also to other towns. His dark eyes were blazing that day not because of the smoke in the air, but because there was fire on the wrong side of…

Rick Lupe died as a result of burns he suffered on May 14, 2003 while working on the Sawtooth Mountain prescribed fire on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, six miles west of Whiteriver, Arizona. He passed away after surviving for 5 weeks in a burn unit.

The “Factual Report” about the incident describes the burnover (click on the image to see a larger version):

Unfortunately the death of Mr. Lupe is marred by some unsettling facts about the prescribed fire. According to the report, the approval of the April 2001 burn plan was rescinded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Western Regional Director on May 9, 2001 after a significant escape during blacklining operations. No approved burn plan existed at the time of ignition on May 12, 2003. In addition, a letter dated May 12, 2003 from the Tribal Forest Manager recommended against conducting the burn because of a recent escaped prescribed burn in New Mexico.

In spite of the administrative and operational issues surrounding the prescribed fire, we honor Rick Lupe for his service and his sacrifice and hope one day to see the memorial .

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