More information has come to light about the death of US Forest Service firefighter Marcus Pacheco who died September 2, 2021 after working on the Dixie Fire in California. For weeks after the fatality the FS would only say that he died of an unspecified illness. As far as we can tell the agency never issued a formal, complete, accurate announcement of the death, unlike other line of duty deaths.
On October 29, 2021 the US Fire Administration, which tracks firefighter fatalities, issued a notice confirming that Mr. Pacheco had close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual while he was assigned to the Dixie Fire August 10 through 29, 2021. He tested positive on August 29 and passed away due to complications from the virus on Sept. 2, 2021.
After an internet search we found information about Mr. Pacheco’s death on an obscure US Forest Service web page, “Inside the FS,” which said he died “due to COVID-19 on Sept. 2 after returning home from the Dixie Fire.” It did not include the facts that he was exposed and tested positive while assigned to the fire, which makes it a line of duty death. The page was published September 15, 2021 according to the embedded meta information.
On September 7 Anthony Scardina, Deputy California California Region Forester for State and Private Forestry, told Wildfire Today about his policy for releasing information about firefighters who die in the line of duty after contracting COVID-19. We had asked him about the deaths of Mr. Pacheco and also Allen Johnson, a semi-retired 40-year FS veteran who passed away approximately August 31 after contracting COVID-19 on the French Fire.
“I’m not going to report fatalities of our employees when it comes to personal illnesses and other privacy matters in terms of deaths at this point in time,” he said. “We’re taking a look at those situations, what the review process will be to make sure we understand the facts. And it’s just simply too early out of respect for the family of being appropriate for us to comment at this point in time on those situations.
Below is a biography of Mr. Pacheco found on a memorial page.
Marcus was an Assistant Fire Engine Operator with the USDA Forest Service. He started his firefighting career working for the California Department of Forestry in 1988 in the small northern California town of Bieber where he met his wife Gwen. During his time with the California Department of Forestry (also known as CAL Fire) he worked at many stations including Bieber, Happy Camp, Alturas, Deer Springs, Garden Valley, and Forest Ranch. After trying out a few other jobs including being a garbage collector, being a camp caretaker, doing highway maintenance for CALTRANS (which included driving a snowplow), and driving school buses, he started working for the Forest Service in 2001 as a seasonal firefighter and received his permanent appointment in May 2005.
Marcus was father to three girls and was active in many other youth focused organizations in Susanville including the Girl Scouts, Campfire, Toys for Tots, Susanville Youth Softball, Boy Scouts (he was an Eagle Scout), and the annual Children’s Fair. Marcus was an active member of the Susanville community. He could often be found at the top of the tall ladders changing the lights for local theater productions, working as security at the Lassen County Fair, or helping serve pancake breakfast at the local Masonic Lodge. He volunteered for several volunteer fire departments including Susan River, Lake Forest and Standish-Litchfield. He was also a 20-year member of the Lassen County Search and Rescue team. Marcus was continually working to improve his skills as a wildland firefighter by getting his EMT certification, his State Fire Marshall I and II certifications, and attending as many courses and training opportunities as possible.
He leaves behind wife Gwen, mother, two brothers and three daughters.