Forest Service says firefighter killed on El Dorado Fire was burned over

Charles Morton was killed on the Southern California fire September 17, 2020

Charles Morton
Charles Morton, USFS photo.

A brief report released by the U.S. Forest Service states that Charles Morton who died September 17, 2020 on the El Dorado Fire in Southern California was “burned over” by the fire. The term means the fire spread to his location.  Other information released by the agency provided no information about the circumstances of the fatality other than he died during suppression activities.

The information was contained in a “72-Hour Report” dated September 24 that according to data at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center was quietly uploaded to the site October 5, 2020.

The LA Times reported October 29 that the San Bernardino County coroner’s office confirmed that the burns were Morton’s official cause of death.

Investigators found that the El Dorado Fire was started by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party at a park in Yucaipa, California. The fire has burned 22,744 acres and has required the expenditure of nearly $40 million in suppression costs to date. As of Thursday 94 personnel were still assigned to the fire.

Send cards and condolences to the Morton family here:
P.O. Box 63564
Irvine, CA 92602.

Mr. Morton was a member of the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew.

Carlos Alexander Baltazar

Another Big Bear crewmember has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Carlos Alexander Baltazar’s car was found abandoned on Highway 18 near Delta Avenue by the California Highway Patrol on September 20, about 75 yards from his backpack. His sister said on the driver’s seat was his ID, a money clip with $200, and on the passenger seat was a knife.

He still has not been found after extensive searches in the area.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office said Mr. Baltazar was was off duty when he abandoned his vehicle and was not in the area of the El Dorado Fire. His family said he was distressed over Morton’s death.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s office said on September 28, “We have received information that possibly a Subaru was seen in the area and may have picked up Mr. Baltazar.”

Officials are asking anyone with information about Mr. Baltazar to contact the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department at (760) 956-5001.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

8 thoughts on “Forest Service says firefighter killed on El Dorado Fire was burned over”

  1. The couple pled not guilty to involuntary manslaughter today.

    Still no word on the missing firefighter?

  2. Something is being withheld about this incident. While any death on a fire is tragic, having been a firefighter for 32 years, my professional curiosity leads me to ask a few questions. First, as a member of a hot shot crew how does someone get “burned over” and no one knows about it? How was a member of a hot shot crew by himself when “burned over”? And how is it that no one knew where he was during this “burn over”? Second why did it take a week for the 72 hour report to come out? It’s a 72 hour report for a reason. And why did it come out “quietly” to the lesson’s learned page three weeks after the incident? The idea of a 72 hour report is to report on an incident so that personnel on the fire can get an idea of what happened and take steps to make sure they won’t have something happen to them and to answer some questions they may have as to what happened. Another question is why this is being kept so quiet? In all my years as a firefighter whenever someone died in the line of duty, the fire service (and especially the USFS) made a big deal of the death. It would be talked about to the media until well after the funeral. This incident became a non news story the day after they found him (and I live in the Los Angeles area so I know how the news media covers these stories and how the local fire service plays it up). Also, any lessons learned from the fatality are shared so firefighters can learn from the incident so hopefully they don’t repeat what happened. Yet more than anything the silence surrounding this incident is deafening.
    And finally we come to the missing crew member. The victims best friend, who is a member of a hot shot crew and an avid outdoors man, just wanders off into the forest never to be seen again. And now the sheriff states they think he may have been picked up in a Subaru. I’m not one to subscribe to the theory that every unanswered question leads to a conspiracy, however in this case something is not being told.
    And why is any of this important? Because a lot of firefighters have died in the line of duty and to not have the truth as to what happened in this incident only cheapens the sacrifice they made. It will also lead to questions in the future when someone dies in the line of duty as to whether or not all the facts as to what happened have been presented truthfully. And finally and most importantly, it does not allow firefighters to learn from the incident so they do not repeat any mistakes that may have been made.

    1. I cannot agree with you more. Something dosen’t set well with me either. I’m a 34 year Forest Service Retired Captain and LEO. Someone is keeping this thing quiet and with the way the agency is run now days we will never get the truth out of them. I also have unanswered questions on the Granite Mountain, and the Esperanza incidents, but I feel we will never get the full story to protect someone or folks feelings.

    2. Its the same thing as the Granite Mountain tragedy. Major issues are painted over and the general public doesn’t know enough to really question things.

      To anyone who has worked with or for a hotshot crew, its quite obvious that important tactical issues are STILL being discussed over secret squirrel frequencies, leading to mission focus blindness, decisions made in a silo without a view of the whole fire, and renegade actions that don’t follow the 10/18.

      Secret Squirrel channels NEVER get mentioned in ANY after action report. They are swept under the rug. The USFS covers up the existence of these. The omission of even mentioning these channels is egregious and downright dangerous. Of course, you get IHC members that wave their hands and say these are essential operational channels for their crew, but then refuse to share these with their line neighbors, DIV, or anyone else. Ridiculous.

      TFLD Scott has is right in his comment here:

  3. why for the life of me are these devices not banned? seems like they have a very bad history

    1. Perhaps details are being withheld due to an ongoing criminal case? But regardless of that, the secondhand accounts I’ve heard regarding the circumstances of his burn-over incident are extremely tragic and reflect somewhat negatively on the operational decisions made that evening by his particular crew and members of the management team. Big Bear IHC has endured a lot over the past couple of years and the media attention focusing on the events that led up to his death would add insult to injury. I’m sure eventually the details will be made public and when you read what happened you’ll probably also understand why Carlos Baltazar was so distressed following his co-workers’s death.


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