Updated at 8:53 a.m. PDT Sept. 5, 2021
Two firefighters assigned to wildfires in California have died.
One of two emails sent to employees on the Stanislaus National Forest about the fatality of one of their employee/retirees said he “passed away earlier this week due to complications of COVID-19 while assigned to the French Fire near Kernville, CA. He had been hospitalized in Bakersfield.”
The person’s name has not been released by the Stanislaus, but at least three sources confirm it was Allen Johnson.
Allen was a Forest Service retiree and was working as an Administratively Determined (AD) employee on the French Fire. The email to the forest’s staff said it’s very early in the process, but “Tentative plans for honoring Allen include a Dignified Transport of remains followed by a Memorial Service. To the best of our current knowledge, Allen’s dignified transport and Memorial Service will occur on or after September 26.”
California Interagency Incident Management Team 14 posted on Facebook Sept. 1, 2021, “Our team, the firefighting community, and the world lost a great friend, mentor, teacher and comrade last night. Retired South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team IC and Liaison Officer Allen Johnson passed away from complications related to COVID 19.”
So in the absence of official information from the US Forest Service about this line of duty death, it appears from the post by his incident management team that Allen died August 31, 2021.
Saturday night NBC Bay Area reported another fatality — a US Forest Service firefighter assigned to the Dixie Fire near Susanville, California.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service told NBC Bay Area Saturday that the firefighter, an employee with the Lassen National Forest died from an illness. The official added that the firefighter’s death was not related to the fire. No other details have been released at this time.
The official information from CAL FIRE about the Dixie Fire confirms there was a first responder fatality from an illness on September 2.
UPDATE at 11:08 a.m. PDT Sept. 6, 2021: NEWS4 reported today that the US Forest Service said the firefighter that died who had been assigned to the Dixie Fire was Marcus Pacheco, an assistant fire engine operator for the Lassen NF with 30 years of fire experience. He passed away Sept. 2 from what the USFS is calling an "unspecified illness". Late at night on September 5 the Lassen National Forest created a post on Facebook announcing the two fatalities and confirming the names.
The Dixie Fire has burned more than 889,000 acres near Susanville, California and is still actively spreading.
The 25,000-acre French Fire is west of Kernville, California.
Last week a strike team of five engines with 16 firefighters on the Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe was quarantined for two weeks due to one of their members testing positive for COVID. There have been other reports of firefighters and crews sidelined, quarantined, or sickened, but specifics are hard to come by.
Two weeks ago Wildfire Today asked the five federal land management agencies for the number of their firefighters that have tested positive for COVID or had to quarantine after exposure. All five refused to release any information on the topic and would not explain their reasoning for keeping it secret. On September 2 we asked the US Forest Service again for the numbers of their firefighters who have tested positive for COVID, were hospitalized, or died. We are still waiting for the answers.
We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the two firefighters who passed away while on duty.
(Edited to include the names of the firefighters.)
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to people who passed along this information.