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Incident Name:  returning home to Roseburg OR from the South Fork Fire on the Boise National Forest northeast of Cascade, Idaho.
Date: 8/24/03
Personnel:  8 lives lost
Age:
Agency/Organization: First Strike Environmental of Roseburg, OR
Position: firefighters

Summary:

Paul Gibson, 25, of Myrtle Creek, OR
David K. Hammer, 38, of Portland, OR
Jeff Hengel, 21, of Roseburg OR
Jesse James, 22, of Roseburg OR
Richard B. Moore II, 21, of Portland, OR
Leland D. Price Jr., 27, of Roseburg OR
Mark Ransdell, 23, of Myrtle Creek, OR
Ricardo Ruiz, 19, of Roseburg OR

The 8 firefighters were a part of a 20-member contract fire fighting crew. The firefighters were returning from 11 days of fighting fires Idaho's Boise National Forest. The firefighters rode in a 16-passenger van as a part of a caravan of 2 vans and a truck. As the van traveled through a 2-lane sloped curve marked as a no passing area, it crossed the centerline to pass a tractor-trailer truck. The van struck a tractor-trailer truck traveling in the opposite direction head-on. When the vehicles came to rest, a fire began which consumed the van and the majority of the tractor-trailer. The occupants of the tractor-trailer truck were able to escape the fire but all 8 firefighters remained in the burning wreckage of the van. The crew boss was in the lead vehicle some distance ahead and did not witness the crash. When the crew boss lost radio contact with the firefighters, they pulled over to wait for them to catch up. Seeing smoke in the distance, they drove to the crash scene and found the van totally engulfed in fire. All eight firefighters died.

Fallen Firefighters Fallen Firefighters

 

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Van Crash Kills Eight Oregon Firefighters
by KGW.com and AP Staff: pdf (57 K)

 

Crash Kills 8 Oregon Firefighters
By By KOMO Staff & News Services: Online article
Story Published: Aug 24, 2003 at 12:19 PM PDT

Story Updated: Jul 29, 2009 at 12:28 PM PDT

VALE, ORE. - Six men from the Roseburg area and two more from Portland were identified Monday as the eight firefighters killed in a head-on collision with a semitrailer truck on Sunday.

Killed were Ricardo "Ricky" Ruiz, 19, of Roseburg; Mark Ransdell, 23, of Myrtle Creek; Jesse James, 22, of Roseburg; David Hammer, 38, of Portland; Leland Price Jr., 27, of Roseburg; Paul Gibson, 25, of Myrtle Creek; Richard B. Moore II, 21, of Portland and Jeff Hengel, 21, of Roseburg.

The two occupants of the Swift Co. semitrailer truck were able to free themselves and were taken to an Ontario hospital with dislocations and burns, said Malheur County Undersheriff Brian Wolfe. Stephen Anthony Nicholson, 37, and Joy L. Nicholson, 39, both of Ogden, Utah, did not suffer life-threatening injuries, Wolfe said.

The eight men in the fire crew were returning home to Oregon Sunday after spending about two weeks fighting the South Fork wildfire in Idaho. They were likely killed instantly when their van collided with the tractor of the heavy truck and exploded into flames on a remote eastern Oregon highway 15 miles west of Vale, Wolfe said. The van apparently tried to pass another truck on a curve and crossed the double-yellow line when it collided with the semi-truck, the undersheriff said.

Hengel's father, Brian Hengel, said his son was a 2001 graduate of Roseburg High School who spent his first summer after graduation working as a firefighter before enrolling at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland. "He loved it," the elder Hengel said. "He was doing it to make money to pay off his school bills and to pay off the truck I got for him." He said he talked with his son about 9 a.m. Sunday, shortly after the crew had crossed into Oregon. "He asked me to go buy him a new tent and sleeping bag," Brian Hengel said. Hengel, who stood 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, was described by friend Ken Smith as a "big, gentle giant." "He was always there when you needed him," Smith told The Oregonian newspaper.

It took more than seven hours for the highway to reopen, once authorities recovered the bodies and highway crews shoveled ash and debris onto trucks. The wreckage of the van and the semi were almost indistinguishable. The charred frame of the van was torn in two. The cab of the semi was demolished but the diesel exhaust stack remained erect. The crash is being investigated by the Malheur County sheriff's office and the Oregon State Police, Wolfe said.

The firefighters worked for First Strike Environmental, a Roseburg-based contract firefighting company. "I extend my wholehearted sorrow and sympathy to the families who lost their sons today," First Strike president Robert Krueger said in a statement. "These were all fine young men who had worked together for two years. They were closer than most and the hole they leave is enormous." Roseburg Mayor Larry Rich said he was in shock after he learned about the crash. "It's one of those moments when it's unbelievable, that there's no way this could have happened," Rich said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show. Rich, who also is a vice principal at Roseburg High School, said the impact on the community will be severe.

The van had been traveling with another First Strike van and a truck. Both those vehicles were about six miles ahead and did not see the crash, First Strike spokeswoman Leslie Habetler said. The vehicles came back to discover the crash after they lost radio contract with the van and saw smoke rising behind them. The 11 firefighters in those vehicles were to return to Roseburg on Monday for counseling and any other assistance they need, Krueger said.

First Strike has been in business for more than 15 years and keeps about 200 firefighters on call during forest fire season. More than 90 percent of the privately contracted fire crews in the United States are based in Oregon. Fire coordinators said the van was coming back from a wildfire in the Boise National Forest about 25 miles northeast of the town of Cascade, Idaho. Wildfires have erupted in many parts of the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest this summer, but recent rains have helped firefighters gain ground on many of the blazes.

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Contributors to this article: GA Peach

 

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