Incident Name: Tuolumne Fire
Date: 09/12/04, 1500 hrs
Personnel: Eva Marie Schicke
Agency/Organization: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (now CAL FIRE)
Position: Wildland Full Time
Summary: Firefighter Schicke was a member of an elite 9 person helitack crew. The crew was called to fight the beginning stages of the Tuolumne Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest. When they arrived aboard their helicopter, 7 members of the crew were dropped off, and 2 members remained with the helicopter to begin water drops. Firefighters established safety zones and began their decent into a steep canyon. The fire was moving up the canyon away from them and had displayed mild behavior at this point in the incident. While the crew was working, a wind shift blew the fire toward them. With only moments to react due to the speed of the fire, firefighters were forced to run to their safety zones. Firefighter Schicke and another firefighter attempted to run uphill to the road safety zone. The first firefighter made it to safety; the fire overran Firefighter Schicke before she could reach the safety of the road. The cause of death for Firefighter Schicke was smoke inhalation. Firefighter Schicke was the first female CDF firefighter to be killed in the line of duty.
Accident Site (approximate)
- CDF Media Advisory: Burnover, Firefighter Fatality and /Injuries - 9/12/2004 (11 K pdf)
- CDF Media Briefing: Names of the Fallen and Injured - 9/13/2004 (20 K pdf)
- CDF Green Sheet/USFS 72 Hour Report: From Colorado Fire Camp
- Accident Investigation Report, CDF Helitack Crew 404 Burnover: Final Report (5.61 MB pdf)
- Map and Photo Gallery (selections from Report): Colorado Firecamp
- NIOSH Report: Career Helitack Fire Fighter Dies in Burnover During an Initial Attack at a Wildland Fire Operation - CA (4,079 K pdf)
- From the Lessons Learned Center and 6 Minutes for Safety: Remembering Eva - 6 Minutes for Safety What YOU Can Learn from Firefighter Eva Schicke’s Death on the Tuolumne Fire
- Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center YouTube video: Remembering Eva (17 minutes)
- Campbell: Tuolumne Fire Situation and Tactic
- CAL FIRE: Eva Schicke | CDF Helitack Crew 404 Burnover
- Remembering and reflecting- Death of young firefighter sobering for her colleagues: From The San Francisco Gate
- Firefighter's Death Scars Gold Country: From the LA Times
- Remembering and Reflecting; Death of Young Firefighter Sobering for her Colleages: From The San Francisco Chronicle (6.8 MB pdf)
- Report: Firefighters Didn't Have Adequate Escape Route In Fatal Fire: From KTVU Bay Area
- First female firefighter killed fighting Calif. fire
9/13/2004 | Online Article (no longer online...)
COLUMBIA, Calif. (AP) — A member of an elite helicopter wildfire crew has become the first female firefighter from the California Department of Forestry to die in the line of duty, state officials said Monday.
Officials could give few details about what happened when the seven-member crew was apparently overrun by flames Sunday in rugged terrain of the Stanislaus National Forest. The department identified the woman as Eva Schicke, 24, of Arnold, Calif.
"This is a very difficult day for our department," said Jim Wright, chief of fire protection at the CDF. "It is just a reminder of the danger our firefighters face on a daily basis." Wright said the crew appeared to have been on the ground about an hour. Their job was to use hand tools to build a fire break ahead of the blaze, which had grown to 800 acres Monday and was 20% contained.
Phyllis Banducci, a CDF spokeswoman, said investigators know little about the accident except that it happened in a canyon area and firefighters recorded a change in the wind at about the same time. Six other firefighters suffered minor injuries. A college student, Schicke had spent 4 1/2 seasons working as a part-time firefighter.
Because the death happened in a national forest and involved firefighters working for the state, it will be investigated by federal and state fire officials, CDF Director Dale Geldert said. The department's helicopter team members are considered among the best firefighters in the system, Wright said.
In Arnold, mourners erected a roadside memorial that included flowers and balloons arranged between a pair of boots, a helmet, gloves and a shovel. A bulletin board included notes from friends and colleagues.
George Muedeking, Schicke's academic adviser at California State University at Stanislaus, said she often returned to register for fall classes wearing military fatigues and still smelling of smoke. "Her commitment was very strong when she decided to do something," he said. "She really saw it through."
Amid the mourning, fire crews worked to contain a separate wildfire threatening the western Sierra Nevada town of Mariposa, about 50 miles south of the blaze that killed Schicke. The flames had burned 2,000 acres and forced the evacuation of about 300 homes in the town of 1,400 residents.
"It almost looks like a volcano has erupted. There is so much ash and so much smoke — miles and miles of it," CDF spokeswoman Olivia Luke said. A 34-year-old man was in custody on an arson charge, accused of starting the fire with a match inserted inside a cigarette.
- Farewell To A Firefighter; CDF Crew Member Honored BY 4,000 At Memorial Service
9/21/04 | Online article Modesto Bee Staff Writer Joel Hood (no longer online...)
Eva Schicke's remains were flown home Monday, amid a chorus of bagpipes and to the salute of 2,000 solemn firefighters in formal black and blue dress. It had been a day of somber celebration for Schicke, the 23-year-old Turlock-born firefighter who was killed Sept. 12 battling a wildfire east of Groveland in southern Tuolumne County.
The first woman in the history of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to die in action, Schicke was remembered by family and friends during a touching, three-hour public ceremony that attracted close to 4,000 people to the Calaveras County Fairgrounds.
It ended with members of the Columbia Helitack crew, Schicke's co-workers since June, loading her coffin aboard the department helicopter for the short flight back to Columbia. Her family will take her remains from there to their home in Placerville. Services will be private.
Among the speakers at the Angels Camp ceremony Monday was Schicke's fiancé, Shea Buhler, who recalled a kind-hearted woman who also was fiercely competitive. Tenacity, he said, drove Schicke as a firefighter and contributed to her being chosen to the elite 12-person Helitack crew just four years after she joined CDF.
Buhler said that spark also drove her in basketball, a sport she excelled in for four years at California State University, Stanislaus. "She was very competitive with everything in life," said Buhler, an engineer for the Ebbetts Pass Fire Protection District, near where Schicke lived in Arnold. "Eva will be missed, not only by me, her brother, John (Schicke), and her mother (Joyce Schicke), but by everyone here today."
TENDER, TALENTED, COMPETITIVE
John Schicke remembered a rambunctious little sister who liked to pull the heads off her Barbie dolls and loved challenging him in athletic contests. But he also told of her softer side, that often led her to comfort friends and give advice that seemed well beyond her age.
"She can charm you with her smile and bless you with her words," John Schicke said, his speech drifting into present tense. "I love my sister so much."
Joyce Schicke again asked not to be interviewed by the media and did not speak at the service. Instead, the ceremony included a taped recording of a duet with Eva and her mom singing a gospel tune from the funeral for Eva's father, who died of cancer in 1998. "Eva loved music and she was so very talented," said CDF Chaplain Jay Donnelley, who led the service.
Eva Schicke was born in Turlock in 1980 and moved to Placerville with her family in 1988. She was a two-sport standout in basketball and volleyball at Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs before returning to Turlock in 1998 to attend Stanislaus State. She graduated in 2002 with a degree in criminal justice.
A NATURAL FIREFIGHTER
But she was a natural firefighter, said Tuolumne-Calaveras Battalion Chief Jeff Millar, who recruited Schicke to CDF and whose wife, LeAnn, recruited her to the women's basketball program at Stanislaus State. "Eva was a wonderful person who touched a lot of people in her short life," Jeff Millar said.
Nick Triveri, a pastor at Cal-vary Chapel in Placerville, recalled a woman of enduring faith, one who had underlined passages in her personal Bible and had written notes to herself in the margins. One such note, read Monday, simply said: "Everything you go through has a happy ending ... eternity."
A LAST TRIP THROUGH MOUNTAINS
The memorial began at 10 a.m. Monday with a ceremonial passing of Schicke's cremated remains from the custody of the U.S. Forest Service to CDF at Terzich & Wilson Funeral Home in Sonora. From there, a procession of more than 100 fire vehicles carried Schicke's flag-draped coffin on a four-hour tour through Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, snaking through the towns of Sonora, Columbia, Murphys and Angels Camp.
Along the way, bystanders waved from sides of roads, and some held American flags. A sign on the north side of the Parrotts Ferry Bridge read: "Thank You Eva." Another in front of an Angels Camp thrift store read: "God Bless Our Firefighters."
As the procession, which increased to about 200 vehicles in Angels Camp, approached the entrance to the fairgrounds, two dozen students from Colleen Hancock's fourth-grade class at nearby Christian Family School waved flags behind a chain-link fence.
"So many of these kids' parents are firefighters," Hancock said. "We're here today to pay our respects, but also to honor all of those who serve."
- Thousands Gather To Remember Eva Schicke: Firefighters From All Over California Converge Just Outside Groveland
September 20, 2004 | Online Article from KCRA Sacramento (no longer online...)
GROVELAND, Calif. -- Thousands of people turned up a the Calaveras County Fairgrounds Monday to mourn the first female firefighter from the California Department of Forestry to die in the line of duty.
Eva Schicke, 23, died Sept. 12 in the Tuolumne Fire near Groveland, when the blaze swept over her and her crew members. The men and women with whom Schicke served were proud of her.
"Everybody here is really hurt by it. We have come out to show our support for the family," said Vallecito CDF spokesman Brad Stratton. "When we lose somebody in this field, we all take a back seat and think about what we do -- No. 1, our family, and then the rest of our co-workers," said Vallecito CDF spokesman Mike Spear.
A crowd of about 3,000 was on hand for the memorial Monday. Half of the mourners were firefighters from around California. CDF Battalion Chief Jeff Milar, who was one of the speakers, recruited Schicke into the fire service. "Eva thrived in our world. She loved the challenge of fighting fires and the comaraderie she found in the station and the air base," Milar said. "She was always smiling on the job."
Schicke was the 70th CDF firefighter to die in the line of duty, and the first CDF firefighter to lose her life since 1990.
During the ceremony, bells chimed for Schicke, and planes streaked across the sky in a salute to one of their own. Schicke's casket was taken from the fairgrounds in the same type of helicopter she worked from while battling fires.
- CDF Announcement: Procession and Funeral - 9/15/2004 (38 K pdf)
- From CDF Chief Dale Geldert
CAL FIRE is a large organization that in many ways resembles a family. The loss of any member of the firefighting family has a dramatic affect on those who put their lives on the line daily. The commitment to society by Eva Schicke – through her courage and compassion -- lives on today in the hearts and minds of her colleagues at CAL FIRE Although the investigation determined no individual was at fault, CAL FIRE will continue to evaluate its policies and procedures as well as those techniques that involve the coordination of firefighting between agencies. Information gathered from the investigation will be used in training courses and modification of policies to hopefully prevent a similar or even more disastrous accident from occurring.
From CAL FIRE Director Dale Geldert
- Thousands Gather to Remember Eva Schicke: Video From KCRA.com (no longer online...)
- From Find A Grave: Obituary
- Memorial Service Photos: Eva Schicke
- Information about the Eva Schicke Memorial Scholarship
- USFA Memorial Database: Eva Schicke
- California Memorial Firefighter Wall in Sacramento: California Memorial LODDs by Wall Order. (84 K pdf) --see page 22
Location of the Rim of the World Vista - Eva Schicke Memorial