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Thread: LODD Five Firefighters Killed Battling Calif. Wildfire

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    LODD Five Firefighters Killed Battling Calif. Wildfire

    Four Firefighters Killed Battling Calif. Wildfire
    Updated info 10-26-2006 05:08:54 PM
    Editors Note: CNN has reported a fourth firefighter has died from injuries received in the blaze.


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    Update Suspicious California Wildfire Claims Fifth Firefighter

    Updated: 11-01-2006 09:30:19 AM
    ------------------------------------------------

    Updated: 10-26-2006 02:34:45 PM


    By JACOB ADELMAN
    Associated Press Writer


    Three firefighters were killed and two critically injured as they battled a wind-whipped wildfire Thursday that drove hundreds of people from their homes near Palm Spring, the U.S. Forest Service said.

    The firefighters were trying to protect a house early Thursday when the flames swept in.

    "The engine was in the area and with the wind conditions like they were, the fire just overtakes and burns the entire engine," said Pat Boss, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

    All U.S. Forest Service personnel were pulled off the fire after the deaths so they could "gather their thoughts, say their prayers," he said.

    The fire, pushed by dry Santa Ana Winds of 25 mph or more, quickly blackened more than 4,000 acres and destroyed at least three homes on Thursday. At least one civilian was also injured.

    The cause of the fire wasn't immediately clear. It started early Thursday, burning in a valley with a few scattered ranch homes. The hamlets of Poppet Ranch and Twin Pines were evacuated along with a juvenile center, Twin Pines Boys Ranch.

    About 200 people left homes when mandatory evacuations were ordered, fire Capt. Julie
    Hutchinson said.

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    Four Firefighters Killed in Suspected California Wildfire Arson

    Donation Information Below


    Updated: 10-27-2006 03:07:01 PM


    By GILLIAN FLACCUS
    Associated Press Writer


    Fire crews struggled to protect homes Friday from a wind-whipped wildfire that trapped and killed four firefighters as it raced through Southern California mountains.

    The blaze in the San Jacinto Mountains, which authorities said was arson, has blackened nearly 24,000 acres, or almost 38 square miles, and already forced hundreds to evacuate. Fire officials worried that the strong wind could shift and blow flames toward populated areas west of Palm Springs.

    At one point, hundreds of mountain residents took refuge with campers in a nearby RV park where crews could protect them.

    The wildfire, the nation's deadliest in five years, was only 5 percent contained early Friday as more than 1,100 firefighters worked to protect homes and build fire lines.

    "We need to be on our business today, folks. It's serious out there for at least the next 24 hours," Tim Chavez, a fire behavior analyst, said during a morning briefing of firefighters in Beaumont.

    Forecasters predicted strong Santa Ana wind that could reach up to 60 mph, possibly threatening the communities of Hemet and Idyllwild. A "red flag warning" was in effect through Saturday night because of a mix of strong wind, low humidity and warm temperatures.

    The fire has destroyed at least five homes, and firefighters had to evacuate additional areas overnight, including a small community south of Banning.

    "Normally the fire dies down and the wind let up, but that didn't happen last night. It burned like it was daytime," Bill Peters, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry told The Associated Press.

    Fire officials were mourning the deaths of four U.S. Forest Service firefighters killed while attempting to protect a home close to where the fire began in Cabazon on Thursday. The flames came so quickly the five-person crew had no time to retreat to its engine or use portable fire shelters.

    Authorities said a $100,000 reward would be offered for information leading to the arsonist's arrest.

    Authorities haven't revealed why they think the fire was arson.

    Killed were engine Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild; engine operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; assistant engine operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; and firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto.

    A fifth firefighter - identified as Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley - had burns over almost his entire body and also had severe respiratory damage, officials said.

    Loutzenhiser was a father of five, said Pat Boss, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

    The wildfire was the nation's deadliest since July 2001, when four firefighters died after being trapped by flames on a dead-end road in Washington's Okanogan National Forest.

    Thursday's deaths brought to 19 the number of California firefighters killed in the line of duty over the past year, according to the California Professional Firefighters, a lobbying organization.

    At least one civilian suffered minor injuries and 200 people in the small mountain communities of Poppet Flat and Twin Pines were forced to flee their homes, authorities said.

    In all, nearly 700 people in the area were evacuated, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters in Sacramento.

    Timo Hargu, 61, said he rushed from his hilltop home with his two dogs after he looked out a window and saw the fire burning in a nearby valley.

    "The whole thing was ablaze with flame," he said. "It was the most spectacular view. A terrible view, but spectacular."

    As many as 1,000 people who had come to the Silent Valley Club RV Resort near Poppet Flat for annual Halloween events were unable to leave after firefighters closed the only road out of the community. TV footage showed vehicles racing through smoke and flames just before the road was closed.

    Firefighters said it was safer to keep the people in the RV park because the blaze was stymied by an existing firebreak around the area.

    As that fire raged, another sprung up in neighboring Orange County, about 50 miles southwest. There, firefighters were battling a brush fire that started overnight and forced about 140 people to flee a campground in the Cleveland National Forest near the city of Lake Elsinore, county Fire Capt. Steve Miller said.

    ___

    Associated Press Writers Solvej Schou, Robert Jablon, Peter Prengaman, Jacob Adelman, Andrew Glazer and Aaron Davis contributed to this report.

    Riverside County is establishing a fund to help the families of firefighters who were killed fighting the fire. Donations may be sent to the Esperanza Firefighters Assistance Fund, P.O. Box 1645, Riverside, Calif. 92502-1645.

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=39&id=51734
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Photo
    Four firefighters, working on engine 57, were killed and one was critically injured Oct. 26.

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    The Stories Behind The Fallen Firefighters

    Updated: 10-28-2006 11:59:08 AM


    PETER PRENGAMAN
    Associated Press Writer



    Brief sketches of the four firefighters who were killed battling a wildfire in Southern California, and a fifth firefighter who was critically burned:

    MARK LOUTZENHISER: The crew's engine captain was a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service and a certified emergency management technician who had studied fire science at Mt. San Jacinto College. He lived in Idyllwild with his wife and five children and was the assistant volleyball coach at Idyllwild School, where his three youngest children are students.

    "Mark was entwined in every part of school life here," said the school's principal, Emily Shaw. Grief counselors had been called in to talk to students.

    The school's annual talent show was canceled after Loutzenhiser's death. It was to be rescheduled and dedicated to the 44-year-old firefighter's memory.

    JESS MCLEAN: The crew's engine operator was a seven-year veteran of the Forest Service who kept a small porcelain figure of a firefighter by the door of his stucco home in Banning. McLean, 27, liked to camp and ride his motorcycle to work, said next-door neighbor Marlene Lopez.

    The blue-eyed, blond-haired firefighter lived with his wife, Karen, and their two dogs and liked to play soccer on the immaculately trimmed lawn in front of his home, Lopez said. She last saw him Tuesday when he dropped by to apologize for taking so long to complete a fence he was building between their houses.

    JASON MCKAY: The crew's assistant engine operator had been with the Forest Service for five years and had also worked as a volunteer firefighter in Adelanto. A certified emergency medical technician, he had an associate degree in fire science. McKay, 27, lived in Phelan.

    DANIEL HOOVER-NAJERA: The 20-year-old firefighter graduated in 2004 from Mountain View High School in San Jacinto. He was about to complete his second wildfire season with the Forest Service.

    A tearful Patrick Najera, Hoover-Najera's grandfather, appeared on KCAL-TV holding a copy of a newspaper with a headline reading, 'They Never Had a Chance.' "I'm going to be looking at this here for the rest of my life because I lost something very, very, very precious," he said.

    Gloria Ayala, Hoover-Najera's mother, sobbed as she recalled getting word of her son's death. She heard a knock on her door. "It was the two gentlemen dressed in uniform ... and I lost it," she said.

    PABLO CERDA: The 23-year-old firefighter, who was hospitalized in critical condition with burns over 90 percent of his body, lives in Fountain Valley with his widowed father and other family members. A graduate of the Riverside Community College Fire Academy, he was in his second year of fighting fires for the Fire Service and planned to begin studying to become a paramedic after fire season.

    "He wanted to be a firefighter, that was his dream," said Jerry Eckert, who worked with Cerda at a supermarket and had known him for 12 years.

    Associated Press writers Allison Hoffman and Ana Beatriz Cholo contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    Suspicious California Wildfire Claims Fifth Firefighter

    Updated: 11-01-2006 09:30:19 AM


    The Associated Press



    Esperanza Fire Claims Fifth Firefighter
    APTN (APTN), World
    Wed 1 Nov 2006 04:15 AM EDT


    A fifth U.S. Forest Service firefighter died of burns suffered when an engine crew was overrun by a Southern California wildfire blamed on arson, authorities said late Tuesday.

    Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley, died at 5:08 p.m. at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, Jeanne Wade Evans, the San Bernardino National Forest supervisor, said at a news conference outside the hospital. A group of Forest Service firefighters with tears in their eyes stood behind her.

    "I felt the faith and hope for Pablo's recovery and actually felt a miracle might be possible," she said. "Today more sadness is added to our almost unbearable grief."

    Cerda was burned over 90 percent of his body Thursday as he and the crew of Engine 57 tried to protect a home from wind-driven flames in the San Jacinto Mountains about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. Three other crew members died at the scene and Cerda's captain died soon after at a hospital.

    Cerda underwent extensive removal of damaged skin in an operation Friday but was given a poor prognosis.

    Dr. Dev Gnanadev said Cerda's family was given the option of returning him to the operating room but "they decided to let Pablo go." He was taken off life support.

    The five firefighter deaths were the most in a single incident while battling a wildfire since 14 were killed in July 1994 during a blaze near Glenwood Springs, Colo., according to National Interagency Fire Center statistics.

    Cerda was in just his second year of fighting fires for the Forest Service. He had planned to begin studying to become a paramedic.

    The other victims were engine captain Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; Jason McKay, 27, of Apple Valley; Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto.

    "All of us from the forest and all those from the fire service deeply mourn the loss of these brave men. In my mind there's no greater calling than to help those in need," Evans said.

    The firefighters were outside their engine when they were overrun by flames and did not have enough time to use their personal fire shelters.

    Authorities said the fire was deliberately set early Thursday at the base of a slope in Cabazon, west of Palm Springs, as fierce winds blew through the region. Before firefighters contained it Monday, the blaze scorched 40,200 acres - about 63 square miles - and destroyed 34 homes and 20 outbuildings. A portion of a highway in the fire area remained closed indefinitely for repair.

    Firefighting costs reached $9.9 million, the California Department of Forestry said.

    Residents said they saw two young men leaving the area where the fire began.

    On Tuesday, authorities interviewed previously convicted arsonists who live in the area, said James Crowell, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who is leading the investigation. In California, convicted arsonists must register with the county and provide their address.

    A day earlier, two people were brought in for questioning and released. No arrests have been made.

    At the crime scene, investigators had planted blue, red and yellow flags attached to wire stakes in the ground to mark the location of possible evidence. Part of the hillside was marked by a grid made of pegs and string.

    Dozens of investigators from the ATF, FBI and state and local agencies were sifting through hundreds of leads, ATF spokeswoman Susan Raichel said. The reward for information leading to an arrest had grown to $550,000.

    A memorial service for the dead firefighters was set for Sunday.

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...3&sectionId=46

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    Services Planned for Fallen California Firefighters

    Services Planned for Fallen California Firefighters


    Updated: 11-01-2006 02:29:51 PM



    Firehouse.Com News
    A public memorial service for the five U.S. Forest Service firefighters killed in the Esperenza Fire in Southern California is planned for Sunday, Nov. 5 at 1 p.m. at Hyundai Pavilion, Glen Helen Park, 2575 Glen Helen Pkwy., Devore, Calif.

    Mark Loutzenhiser, Jason McKay, Jess McLean, and Daniel Hoover-Najera were killed last week when their engine was engulfed in flames, trapped the firefighter. A fifth firefighter on board the engine, Pablo Cerda, succumbed to injuries from the blaze Oct. 31.

    The San Bernardino National Forest is currently working with the families of the fallen firefighters to arrange private funerals.

    For more information on the memorial service, call the San Bernardino Engine 57 Support Line at 909-383-5501.

    Donations can be sent to the Wildland Firefighters Foundation, 2049 Airport Way, Bosie, ID 83705
    http://www.wffoundation.org/
    or the California Fire Foundation, 1780 Creekside Oaks, Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95833.
    http://www.cpf.org/default/

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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    Suspect Charged in Deadly California Wildfire

    Suspect Charged in Deadly California Wildfire

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Updated: 11-03-2006 09:09:02 AM


    By GILLIAN FLACCUS
    Associated Press Writer



    Authorities on Thursday filed murder and arson charges carrying the death penalty against a man suspected of setting a Southern California wildfire last week that killed five firefighters.

    The suspect, Raymond Lee Oyler, 36, was already under arrest on suspicion of setting two other wildfires over the summer.

    The blaze was the deadliest for firefighters since July 1994, when 14 were killed near Glenwood Springs, Colo., according to the National Interagency Fire Center statistics.

    Prosecutors charged Oyler with five counts of murder, 11 counts of arson and 10 counts of use of an incendiary device. The charges include seven fires in June, one in July, one in September and two in October.

    District Attorney-elect Rod Pacheco said Oyler will also face two so-called special circumstances, one alleging murders committed during arson and another alleging multiple murders.

    Authorities did not immediately disclose a motive. Oyler was scheduled to make a court appearance later Thursday.

    The charges are punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Authorities will decide in the next 60 days which sentence to seek, Pacheco said.

    "The feelings of the surviving family members of the victims will be consulted and be given great weight by our office in what is always a difficult decision," he said.

    A woman who answered the phone at the home of Oyler's mother said she had no comment.

    The fire was stoked by Santa Ana winds as it swept southwest through the San Jacinto Mountains west of Palm Springs. The flames overran the fire crew, destroyed 34 homes and charred more than 60 square miles before being contained Monday.

    Three firefighters died at the scene, and a fourth died soon after at a hospital. A fifth was taken off life support and died this week.

    Investigators interviewed Oyler on Oct. 27, served a search warrant on his residence Monday, then arrested him Tuesday.

    "This arrest really does help with some of the closure, the healing that we in the Forest Service community, and in the families, need," said Jeanne Wade Evans, the San Bernardino National Forest supervisor.

    California court records show Oyler was convicted in September 2001 of possession of a controlled substance.

    In Joplin, Mo., police and court records show Oyler had mostly minor run-ins with the law from 1997 through 1999. The most severe was a 1999 misdemeanor charge of violating a protection order by entering his wife's apartment while she was out. The couple divorced in 2001.
    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=39&id=51836

    Photo by
    AP Photo/Riverside County Sheriff's Department, HO


    Investigators are seeking arson and murder charges against Raymond Lee Oyler in a Southern California wildfire that killed five firefighters.

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    Funerals Begin for 5 California Firefighters

    Funerals Begin for 5 California Firefighters


    Updated: 11-03-2006 03:05:59 PM


    By GILLIAN FLACCUS
    Associated Press Writer


    Family and colleagues mourned the team firefighters killed by a wind-swept arson fire as the first of five funeral began Friday, and they also praised authorities for charging the man accused of starting that fire with murder.

    "I knew that they were going to find him. I'd been praying about it," Brenda Zimmerman told CBS's "The Early Show" on Friday before her brother Jason McKay's funeral.

    McKay's funeral in Victorville was the first for the five U.S. Forest Service firefighters who were overrun by flames Oct. 26 in Southern California's San Jacinto Mountains.

    Mourners watched on a video screen as photos flashed by showing McKay and his fiancee camping and rafting, and a smiling McKay covered in soot after fighting a fire.

    "Nine days ago, one of the worst tragedies in the 100-year history of the Forest Service took the lives of five heroes," U.S. Forest Service Chaplain Steve Seltzner said as the service began. "It has shaken this agency and the men and women of the San Benardino National Forest to its very core and shocked the entire world."

    On Thursday, authorities charged Raymond Lee Oyler of Beaumont with arson and murder - crimes that carry a possible death sentence.

    "This arrest really does help with some of the closure, the healing that we in the Forest Service community, and in the families, need," said Jeanne Wade Evans, the San Bernardino National Forest supervisor.

    Oyler was charged with five counts of murder, 11 counts of arson and 10 counts of use of an incendiary device. The charges include seven fires in June, one in July, one in September and two in October.

    Oyler denied any involvement.

    In a jailhouse interview, he told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside that he was home with his baby girl when the deadly fire broke out and that he had "no idea why they came to me."

    "All I know is I didn't do this and they're trying to pin this on me," Oyler said. "They need to find the real person."

    District Attorney-elect Rod Pacheco said the evidence against Oyler was "overwhelming," but he did not disclose a motive and would not say what led investigators to Oyler.

    The 36-year-old auto mechanic with tattoos on his neck and forearms appeared in court in handcuffs as his attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

    Oyler "adamantly denies involvement in this fire and in any of these fires," attorney Mark McDonald said outside court. "He's very distraught and scared ... The finger is pointing at him."

    Oyler, who said nothing during the brief hearing, was held without bail.

    Authorities were trying to determine whether Oyler has any links to at least 40 fires in the area since May, according to an official involved in the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is continuing.

    Investigators were also looking at a 1998 fire in which the pilot of a firefighting aircraft died in a crash. That blaze burned more than 24,000 acres in the San Jacintos and had a burn pattern similar to last week's fire, the official said.

    The charges are punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Prosecutors will decide in the next 60 days which sentence to seek.

    "The feelings of the surviving family members of the victims will be consulted and be given great weight by our office in what is always a difficult decision," Pacheco said.

    Last week's fire was stoked by Santa Ana winds as it swept southwest through the mountains about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. The flames overran the fire crew, destroyed 34 homes and charred more than 60 square miles before being contained Monday.

    Three firefighters died when the flames swept over their truck, and a fourth died soon after at a hospital. A fifth was taken off life support and died this week. The last time so many firefighters were killed battling a wildfire was July 1994, when 14 were killed near Glenwood Springs, Colo., according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

    McKay, 27, of Apple Valley, moved with his family to the Victorville area from Minnesota when he was a boy. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service for five years and was the assistant engine operator on the Engine 57 crew.

    "He loved being a firefighter," Staci Burger, McKay's fiancee, told The Press-Enterprise. "It was what he wanted to do since he was born."

    Funeral services were also scheduled over the next several days for firefighters Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto; Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; and Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley. A public memorial service for all five men was planned for Sunday

    Associated Press Writer Andrew Glazer contributed to this report.
    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...1&sectionId=46
    AP Photo/Idyllwild Town Crier, Darla Priest
    Firefighter Jason McKay

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    Thousands Mourn 5 Fallen Wildfire Heroes

    Thousands Mourn 5 Fallen Wildfire Heroes


    Updated: 11-05-2006 08:52:57 PM


    By GILLIAN FLACCUS
    Associated Press Writer

    The five men killed in the deadliest wildfire disaster in more than a decade were remembered Sunday as both heroes and regular guys at a memorial service attended by more than 10,000 people.

    The five, who were part of the crew of Engine 57, were killed Oct. 26 when a wind-driven blaze drove down as they tried to save a house in the rural community of Twin Pines, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. A man is accused of setting the fire.

    "They loved doing their jobs, but they also loved going home afterward," said Jeanne Wade-Evans, a San Bernardino National Forest supervisor. "This time they could not go home."

    Sunday's memorial was held at a large outdoor arena in the mountains, not far from the area the firefighters protected. It began with a procession of the U.S. Forest Service honor guard with bagpipers and drummers, and a cortege of fire service vehicles.

    A huge screen positioned above a stage contained a picture of a firefighter's boots and the words "Always Remember."

    "In the simple act of lacing up their fire boots, they were actually committing themselves to protect and to serve. We assemble here together a brokenhearted congregation," said Steve Seltzner, a U.S. Forest Service chaplain who has been meeting with families of the men.

    Killed at the scene were firefighters Jason McKay, 27; Jess McLean, 27; and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20. Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, the captain of Engine 57, died soon after at a hospital. Firefighter Pablo Cerda, 23, died a few days later.

    Fourteen firefighters died battling a wildfire in July 1994 near Glenwood Springs, Colo., according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

    Last week police arrested Raymond Lee Oyler, 36, and charged him with five counts of murder and various counts of arson for this blaze. Oyler has said he is innocent. Among those who attended Sunday's service were Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Before the ceremony, the fallen firefighters' family members stood in front of huge photos of each firefighter surrounded by bouquets of red, white and blue flowers.

    In the stands, Beth Fogle, of Idyllwild, cried softly. Fogle said she knew all five well, especially Loutzenhiser, who lived in Idyllwild and was an assistant volleyball coach at the elementary school that three of his five children attended.

    "He was strong but gentle, and just a kind man, a wonderful friend to my son," said Fogle, whose son is also a fire captain.

    Peter Brinkerhoff, 28, attended the memorial with 17 other members of the Vandenberg Hot Shots, an elite firefighting group. He said what happened made him question his own career.

    "It could just as easily have been anyone else sitting there at that house," he said of the home the firefighters were trying to save. "It just adds an element of anger, too, that it was intentionally set and totally preventable."

    At the ceremony's conclusion, a group of Forest Service fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters flew over the amphitheater as bagpipers played "Amazing Grace." The crowd stood at attention.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=39&id=51863

    AP Photo/Francis Specker


    A bagpiper from the California Professional Firefighter Pipe and Drum Band plays "Amazing Grace" with a banner of a boot and the words "Always Remember" in the background, at a memorial service in Devore, Calif. on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006, for five U.S. Forest Service firefighters who were overrun by flames Oct. 26 in Southern California's San Jacinto Mountains.

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