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Thread: Suspicious California Wildfire Claims Fifth Firefighter

  1. #1
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    Suspicious California Wildfire Claims Fifth Firefighter

    Suspicious California Wildfire Claims Fifth Firefighter

    Updated: 11-04-2006 03:02:29 PM

    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.

  2. #2
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Cerda, Pablo

    Age: 23
    Cause of Death: Caught or Trapped
    Rank: Firefighter
    Nature of Death: Burns
    Classification: Wildland Part-Time
    Emergency Duty: Yes

    Incident Date: 10/26/2006
    Duty Type: On-Scene Fire
    Incident Time: 03:00
    Activity Type: Advance Hose Lines/Fire Attack (includes Wildland)
    Death Date: 10/31/2006
    Fixed Prop. Use: Outdoor Property

    Fire Dept. Info:
    USDA Forest Service - San Bernardino National Forest
    602 S. Tippecanoe Ave.
    San Bernardino , California 92408
    Chief: Forest Supervisor Jeanne Wade-Evans

    Initial Summary:
    Firefighter Cerda was one of five firefighters injured while attempting to protect a home close to where the Esperanza wildfire fire began in Southern California. The firefighters were overcome sometime between 0700-0900hrs by very rapid fire progress so that the crew had no time to retreat to their engine or use portable fire shelters. Four firefighters died from injuries the day of the arson-caused incident. Cerda spent several days in the hospital in critical condition suffering from burns to over ninety-percent of his body. Late in the afternoon on 10/31/2006 he succumbed to his injuries and passed away.

    Memorial Fund Info:
    Memorial Fund Contact and Address: 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.

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