Year in Review: Wildland fire fatalities in 2008

We all know that wildland firefighting can be a dangerous occupation, and 2008 was no exception. From posts on Wildfire Today, we have assembled a list of wildland firefighters who died in the line of duty, primarily in the United States, along with some of the civilians who perished in wildland fires. This is probably not a complete list and if you know of any we missed, please let us know. We grieve for all of the families of those who passed away this year.

Only excerpts of the articles are posted below. For more details, click on the links.

On December 30, 31, and January 1 we will have a summary of the top wildland fire stories of 2008.

March 9
7 Firefighters Die on Forest Fire in Honduras
From a story at eitb in Spain:

The firefighters, four soldiers and three forestry workers, were part of a 200-strong team battling to contain the fire on a mountainside close to Tegucigalpa since Friday. Seven firefighters died in Honduras on Sunday overwhelmed by a raging forest blaze on the outskirts of the capital, the military said. They were working to put out the fire and suddenly there was a change of wind direction and they were engulfed by flames, Gen. Orlando Vasquez told local radio. Honduras is at the start of its summer and forest fires at common at this time.”

March 10
Fire Captain dies from parasite inhaled while fighting fire.
MURRIETA, California — Murrieta Fire Capt. Matt Moore died Monday night at UCSD Medical Center in San Diego, succumbing to complications from meningitis, fire department officials said. Moore, 43, a 17-year veteran of the department, had been hospitalized in a coma for the last two weeks.

He had been in various hospitals since November battling an aggressive form of meningitis. It is believed Moore inhaled a parasite while fighting the region’s wildfires late last year. The parasite reportedly caused swelling in his brain.

April 15
Three deaths in Colorado on same day.
From the Colorado State Fire Chief’s Association:

“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.”

UPDATE, December 30, 2008
The NTSB has released their report about the air tanker crash. More information is HERE.

June 29
Two helicopters collide, one firefighter killed.
Two medical helicopters collided in Flagstaff, Arizona on Sunday while trying to land at the same hospital, killing six. One of them was a wildland firefighter that had been working on a fire in Grand Canyon National Park.

From the National Park Service Morning Report:

Firefighter Michael MacDonald was tragically killed in a private medical helicopter collision while being transported from the Grand Canyon to a northern Arizona hospital for a medical condition not directly related to firefighting on Sunday, June 29th. Six people, including MacDonald, were killed in the collision of two medical helicopters near Flagstaff Medical Center.

MacDonald, 26, was a member of the Chief Mountain Hot Shots, an elite Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded Native American firefighting crew based on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. The crew was assigned to the Walla Valley Fire on the North Rim. The Chief Mountain Hot Shot crew will be released from the incident today to travel home.

July 3
California volunteer firefighter dies
UKIAH, Calif.—A volunteer firefighter has died after collapsing while battling a blaze in Mendocino County. The Anderson Valley Fire Department says 63-year-old Robert Roland died at the Ukiah Valley Medical Center on Thursday morning. The cause of death has not yet been determined, but department volunteer Dawn Ballantine says Roland’s death was likely heart-related.

July 11
Body found in burned house in Butte County, CA
A burned body was found in the remains of a house that burned in the BTU (or Butte County) complex in an evacuated section of Concow, California. According to a press release issued by the Butte County Sheriff’s office, a deputy sheriff found the body at 10 a.m. on Friday while doing a search of the structures that had burned. The house had been the residence of someone named in a missing person report. The Sheriffs office said 40 homes were destroyed in the neighborhood where the body was found. An autopsy will be conducted this weekend to attempt to identify the body using DNA or fingerprints.

(Wildfire Today was unable to determine the results of the autopsy or the name of the victim.)

July 25
NPS firefighter killed by falling tree
Andrew Palmer, a National Park Service firefighter, was killed Friday when he was struck by a falling tree while fighting a fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and co-workers.

REDDING, Calif. — A Port Angeles, Wash., firefighter was killed Friday afternoon fighting a fire in northern California. Andrew Palmer, 18, was an Olympic National Park Service firefighter assigned to the Iron Complex of fires on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Mike Odle, of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said Palmer “suffered injuries from what sounds like an incident with a tree.” Investigators are looking into the circumstances surrounding Palmer’s death.

(Wildfire Today has learned that as of December, 2008, the investigation is still going on, and it includes the participation of law enforcement officers. We may be hearing quite a bit more about this.)

July 26
Firefighter entrapped and killed on Panther fire.
Daniel Bruce Packer, 49, of Lake Tapps, Wash., died while working on the Panther fire
about 15 miles south of H
appy Camp in southwestern Siskiyou County. The U.S. Forest Service reported the death Saturday, but the fire’s intensity and limited visibility kept crews from recovering or positively identifying Packer’s body until Sunday, sheriff’s dispatcher Dennis Moser said today.

A Forest Service ground team lead by a Siskiyou County sheriff’s deputy was able to reach the site by 6 p.m. Sunday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Susan Gravenkamp said that evening. A ground team was expected to carry Packer’s body from the fire area to the nearest road, a job estimated to take three hours, she said Sunday.

August 8
Helicopter crash kills nine.
Nine firefighters and pilots were killed when a helicopter crashed while attempting to take off from a helispot on the Buckhorn fire in northern California. Killed were:

Shawn Blazer, 30, Medford, Ore.
Scott Charleson, 25, Phoenix, Ore.
Matthew Hammer, 23, Grants Pass, Ore.
Edrik Gomez, 19, Ashland, Ore.
Bryan Rich, 29, Medford, Ore.
David Steele, 19, Ashland, Ore.
Roark Schwanenberg, 54, Carson pilot, Lostine, Ore.
Jim Ramage, 64, USFS Check Pilot, Redding, CA
Stephen Renno, 21, Cave Junction

August 21
North Carolina: firefighter dies in fall from cliff
A North Carolina Forest Service firefighter who fell off a cliff at Big Bradley Falls and died has been identified as Curtis Jessen, the division’s assistant district forester in Asheville. Jessen suffered critical injuries after falling from the Big Bradley Falls near Saluda. Medical personnel pronounced Jessen dead a short time later.

August 26
Resident dies in home during fire in Boise
The Oregon Trail fire in Boise killed Mary Ellen Ryder and destroyed 10 houses. Ryder’s body was found in the remains of her burned home.

September 1
Air tanker crashes, crew of three dies.
Air Tanker 09, operated by Neptune Aviation Services, crashed shortly after taking off at Stead, Nevada. Killed were the three crew members, Gene Wahlstrom, Greg Gonsioroski, and Zachary Vander Griend.

September 17
Contract firefighter dies following road grader accident
A 77-year-old Happy Camp man has died from injuries suffered while serving as a contract firefighter in Siskiyou County, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said Tuesday.

Hillman, a member of the Karuk tribe, was operating a grader to improve road conditions and access for firefighters. They were working the Siskiyou and Blue 2 Complex of fires when Hillman was injured Aug. 25, public information officer Mike Ferris said.

Oct. 1
Corrections officer dies on Arizona fire
From the Arizona Capitol Times:

A corrections officer working with an inmate hotshot crew died Oct. 1, shortly after the crew began working to contain a fire near Lake Havasu City, according the Arizona Department of Corrections.

The officer, Douglas Falconer, 46, apparently died of natural causes, the agency said in a statement released Oct. 2. No more details were available.

October 26
Aussie firefighter killed by falling tree.
The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service has released information about a firefighter fatality. Bryce Laut died while fighting a fire in Kumbatine National Park near Kempsey. According to a release from the agency, he was killed when a ” burnt-out tree fell directly onto Bryce”.

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