Incident Name: Esperanza Fire
Personnel: 5 Lives Lost (see below)
Agency/Organization: a CAL FIRE (SRA) fire, US Forest Service personnel
Summary: On October 26th, 2006, 5 USDA Forest Service Wildland Firefighters lost their lives in the Esperanza Tragedy. The crew of San Bernardino National Forest Engine 57 were defending an unoccupied home located at the top of a steep drainage when the fire overran them.
Killed in the Line of Duty were
Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 43
FEO Jess McLean, 27
AFEO Jason McKay, 27
F/F Pablo Cerda, 23
F/F Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20
Three firefighters died at the scene. Mark Loutzenhiser was taken to Arrowhead Medical Center and passed away on the evening of October 26 with his family by his side. Pablo Cerda was also taken to the medical center with burns over 95 percent of his body and severe respiratory trauma; he succumbed to his injuries on October 31, 2006.
(Click on photos for larger image and description)
From the E-57 Memorial webpage, no longer online
- ArcGlobe Animation of the Fatality Site - 6MB .wmv file: Fatality Site ArcGlobe Animation
- Topographical Map - Shows Elevations & Location - .5 MB pdf file: Topo Map
- Topographical Map Shows Fire Spread & Location - 1.5 MB pdf file: Fire Spread Map
- ArcGIS Airflow Analyst of San Jacento Mountains: Animation (23 MB wmv) | Enhanced Animation (5.75 MB avi)
- General Overview of 15500 Gorgonio Road - 33KB jpg: 15500 Gorgonio Rd
- Detailed Fatality Locations - 54KB jpg: Fatality Locations
- Satellite Image - Fuel Reduction - 177KB jpg: Fuel Reduction
- Hazard Clearance - 265KB jpg: Before and After
- Fire Behavior Progression Potential (CPS) - 300KB jpg: Potential Fire Behavior
- Fire Perimeter Plus Poppet Flats RX Burn - 540KB jpg: Fire Perimeter
- Other Fatality Sites in Area - 86KB jpg: Other Fatality Sites
- CalFire 24 Hour Blue Sheet - 10-26-2006 - 91K pdf: Blue Sheet
- CalFire Accident Review / Green Sheet - 30 K pdf: Green Sheet
- USFS Accident Review Board Action Plan - 4/30/2007 - 23K pdf: Esperanza Action Plan
- Accident Investigation Factual Report - 5/21/2007 - 3.8MB: Full Report
- Factual Report by Chapter on CalFire Website: Esperanza Report
- OSHA Report - 7/19/2007 - 290K pdf: OSHA Report
- Office of the Inspector General Findings - 12/3/2009 - 172K pdf: OIG Findings
- Esperanza Factual Report Analysis - 9/10/2007 - 83K pdf: Factual Report Analysis
- Link to Public Website for Esperanza Staff Ride Resources: Esperanza Staff Ride
- USFS - F&AM - 494MB pdf: Esperanza Fire vs. Poppet Flats Fuel Treatment
- San Bernardino NF Risk Assessment - 1.34MB pps: BDF Risk Assessment
- Forest Service Memorial: Heroes page
- Misery Whip Critique from They Said It - 6/6/2007 - 19K pdf: Esperanza Critique
- Beaumont Raws Data Analysis from They Said It - 10/25/2006 - Weather from Beaumont RAWS
- WLF Hotlist Discussion (fuels, gis, demo): Esperanza Before/After Fire Effects
- WLF Hotlist - First Anniversary: In Memoriam: Engine 57
- WLF Hotlist - Accident Report Discussion: Investigation Reports - Comments
- WLF Hotlist - Arson Trial/Penalty: Arson Trial-Penalty Phase: Oyler Sentenced
- WLF They Said It - Memorial Collection (html): In Memoriam -an outpouring of love
- Mike Dietrich and Norm Walker Memorial Comments (html): Memorial Comments
- The Seltzner Perspective - 37K pdf: The Seltzner Perspective
- WLF Hotlist Factual Report Analysis (weblink): Discussion on Factual Report Analysis
- Santa Ana winds make it that much tougher for firefighters
10/28/2006 | Santa Barbara Sun: Online Article by George Watson, Jeff Horwitz and Guy McCarthy
TWIN PINES - Firefighters tried to quell the ravenous Esperanza Fire on Friday as investigators sifted through more than 100 phone tips, any of which could indicate who lit the blaze that killed four firefighters a day earlier. Authorities hope that a reward fund that grew to $500,000 in government and private contributions will boost their arson investigation.
Foremost on everyone's mind, though, was when the wildfire would be tamed. At 8 p.m., it was only 25 percent contained. Gusting Santa Ana winds carrying hot and dry desert air continued to fuel the arson blaze that doubled in size to more than 39,900 acres after burning past the small mountain communities of Poppet Flats and Twin Pines.
For most of the day, the fire continued moving southwest, splitting into three tendrils as each gobbled up acre after acre through canyons and hillsides that were more appropriate places for goats than weary firefighters.
But as darkness approached, winds shifted, sending flames back where they came, leading to the re-evacuation of at least one community.
"I just wish the thing was over," said Dwayne Wright, 40, of Poppet Flats, after spending Thursday night with his mother, who lives in the Silent Valley recreational park, which is near Poppet Flats. Wright was making final arrangements before he and his mother joined the slew of RVs streaming down the mountain as part of a mandatory evacuation.
Santa Ana winds are expected to slack slightly today, with gusts up to 35 mph, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Vanderburg. The top wind gust recorded Friday was 46 mph in the Banning area, Vanderburg said. Humidity will remain low, meaning very dry conditions today.A red flag warning for critical fire weather remains in effect until 9 p.m. today but a dramatic shift is expected later in the night and early Sunday that could aid firefighters.
"On Sunday, we'll get pretty much a 180, with light onshore winds of about 10 mph," Vanderburg said. "That should bring the humidity up to 20 percent by Sunday morning, and higher by that evening."
Friends and family mourned the four dead firefighters, and turned their prayers toward a fifth member of the U.S. Forest Service strike team who suffered burns over most of his body Thursday morning. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the 23-year-old injured firefighter, Pablo Cerda, whose prognosis, his doctor said, remained poor. As Cerda fought to survive, authorities examined the wildfire's ignition point and began pouring over the potential tips. They also looked to see if any of the recent rash of arson fires that have struck this area could be related, including a 40-acre fire Sunday in nearby Mias Canyon.
Michael Wakowski, a fire division chief in the San Bernardino National Forest, said there had been so many fires that investigators had ample evidence to try to connect the dots. "You can tell from the site that obviously they knew they were doing," Wakowski said. "You have to have a knowledge of wind, weather, topography and fuels. All summer long there have been numerous fires.
Boosting investigators efforts could be a still-growing reward fund that rose to $500,000. On Thursday, members of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors pledged $100,000 for information that leads to the successful arrest and conviction of anyone connected to the arson.
That total was matched Friday by San Bernardino County supervisors, the state of California and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. The tribe gave money in part because of the series of suspicious fires, said Robert Martin, a Morongo tribal council member. Tim Blexseth, an influential businessman in Rancho Mirage, also gave $100,000.
"A lot of tips are coming in, and I don't think they are calling in for the money, though maybe some are," said Marion Ashley, a Riverside County supervisor. "It's going to be easier than winning the lotto to get this guy."
Sgt. Earl Quinato of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department added that there is a "big difference between calls and leads." Still, he urged anyone who thinks they know something to call authorities.
Assisting the sheriff's department was the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
Pattern of destruction
Investigators have not said what evidence of arson they have. But Ashley said the finding involved the burn "pattern." He gave no details of the pattern. "They know it was arson," he said. "There was also another major arson a few weeks ago that had a similar pattern." Altogether, after two days of wildfire, 10 structures have been destroyed and 500 are reported threatened, authorities said. More than 400 people have been evacuated in Poppet Flats and Castle Canyon.
More homes were lost about 2 a.m. Friday on Sunset Avenue just south of Interstate 10 near Banning. Highway 243 remained closed from Banning to Lake Fulmor, and Highway 79 was closed between Beaumont and Hemet. More than 2,078 fire personnel, 279 engines, 20 bulldozers, 15 air tankers, 22 helicopters and four air attacks continued battling the deadly blaze.
Several hundred people spent Thursday night in the Silent Valley RV park after fire cut off the only road out, but many had left in the morning. Many firefighters remained with them for protection. "We were watching the news on someone's portable TV and looking over our shoulders," said Wright, the Poppet Flats resident who came to care for his mother.
Firefighters worked on cutting a 50-foot fire break on both sides of the existing fire perimeter overnight Thursday and into Friday morning. Fighting the fire as the day passed proved an arduous, and at times impossible task. Winds gusting to 45 mph boosted the blaze's forward progress and at times forced firefighters to race for safety. Firefighters were not "even cautiously optimistic" as they battled the wind-driven Esperanza Fire that killed four firefighters Thursday, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Julie Hutchinson.
The fire moved so fast and in a handful of directions, Hutchinson said, that the department did not have precise knowledge of the fire's size. All they know is it is growing, she said. It was last reported at more than 24,000 acres. "It's moving through the canyons," she said. "You can't just block off an area on the map and count the acres." Nothing was immediately threatened, Hutchinson said, but fire crews are being extra cautious because the area is populated. "We've got some schools, some large developments there," she said.
A tough battle
Around 10:30 a.m., the fire jumped across Highway 79 near Banning but firefighters beat it back and contained the flames on the east side of the highway. "We were ready because of the turns in the highway and by the drainage, it was a real vulnerable spot," said Engineer Dave Baker of the Carpenteria-Summerland Fire District. Flames reached the highway even setting the guardrail posts on fire like thick wooden candles. "Everything has to have some kind of a line built around it," Baker said.
Bulldozers and hand-crews constructed a firebreak on the ridge above the east side of the highway to prevent the smoldering fire from breaking out anew. Orange-clad hand-crews worked with shovels and picks as they scaled the precipitous hillside. Others atop the ridge wielded chainsaws to clear the highly combustible brush. Around 4:30 p.m., authorities issued a mandatory evacuation from the Silent Valley RV park. As Wright contemplated the order, a giant yellow helicopter sucked up water from a nearby pond. Behind the pool of water, dozens of RVs decorated with Halloween stuff were scattered among trees, abandoned by people seeking safety. And then, Wright alluded to the concerns of authorities investigating the arson. "Everytime the brush grows up, somebody tries to burn it down," Wright said.
By nighttime, the winds were changing, and officials hoped their fortunes were, too. "We prefer to have no wind at all, but an offshore wind has higher humidity," said Matt Streck, a CDF spokesman.
A dangerous forest
The fire was burning near areas where three out of four trees are already dead from drought and bark beetles, said Pim Chavez, a fire behavior specialist. Fuels have been exposed to humidity as low as 5 percent for more than 36 hours, making for explosive conditions with the gusty winds. "Fire behavior has been spectacular," he said.
The cities of San Jacinto and Hemet were safe because the area between the fire and the cities is defensible, said Janet Upton of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The bulk of the fire was in very difficult terrain. "It's mountain goat country," she said.
No new injuries were reported, but the identities of the firefighters killed Thursday in the fierce wildland blaze were released this morning.
Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44 - a father of five from Idyllwild - led the group on U.S. Forest Service engine 57 that was trying to protect homes when they were overwhelmed by flames. Loutzenhiser, an admired youth coach and 21-year veteran of the fire service, died along with three of his men. Also killed were Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont, a fire engine operator with seven years of service; Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan, a fire engine operator with five years of service, and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto, a seasonal firefighter in his second season.
Cerda, of Fountain Valley, suffered burns over 90 percent of his body and was unconscious and on a ventilator at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center's burn unit. The firefighter was in his second season with the Forest Service. He has shown some improvement but his prospects remain poor, said Dr. David T. Wong, chief of trauma and critical care services at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. Surgeons removed about 70 percent of Cerda's dead and damaged skin, said ARMC spokesman Jorge Valencia. He remained in critical condition. Burn victims with such extensive injuries have survived, Wong said. Family members stayed by Cerda's side.
"Our deepest condolences go out to their families and friends during this very tragic time," said Jeanne Wade Evans, supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest. "All of us on the forest and in the fire service community are suffering a great loss."
"The human factor"
At a makeshift memorial Friday morning in Pine Cove, where the dead crew members were stationed, several firefighters stood silently with their hats off. A moment later, Forest Service Fire Capt. Andy Thorne, 50, tried to put his feelings into words."We're people, that's the way the Lord made us," Thorne said. "I've had acquaintances die in fires before. It's the human factor, over time and age you harden like a shell. But you still have a heart, you have feelings." A wicker basket of flowers and another bouquet lay below a hand-drawn sign. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the friends and families of the crew members of USFS BDF Engine 57," the sign said. "You will be missed!"
Elsewhere in Pine Cove, some residents expressed outrage and anguish for the fallen. Karen Wood, who lives next door to the fire station where the fallen firefighters worked, grieved. "You go into town and everybody acts like nothing happened," Wood said of their deaths. "We can't ignore what happened. Wood sobbed as she recalled their kindness. "They did so much for us," she said. "Once they went and found my dead dog for me. They made sure I didn't see it but they brought back his collar to me." Bobby Salibean, 26, clerk at the Pine Cove Market and Gas, said, "Property can be replaced, but these guys' families and kids are going to grow up without fathers," Salibean said. "It's just sad." Ed Grove, 50, runs an auto shop at the same business. "It definitely strikes personal up here," Grove said. "It's just sick when you get an arson-set fire that burns up the whole mountain and kills firefighters. Up here, you could be killing hundreds of people. Dying is never a fair trade to saving houses, especially when it's arson-set."
Staff Writers Andrew Silva, Andrew Edwards, Megan Blaney and Leonor Vicanco and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
- A black day for local firefighters
Oct. 31, 2006 | Idyllwild Town Crier: Online Article by J.P. Crumrine
“Everything should have gone right,” Norm Walker, San Jacinto Ranger District fire chief, said Friday afternoon about the Esperanza Fire. “All the worst things were brought together.” Similar to the ocean’s reaction to the “perfect storm” in October 1991, 15 years later, nature conspired to combine terrain, vegetation, fire temperature and smoke to create a perfect firestorm and take four more of us from families and friends. It took 72 hours for man to gain some control over this murderous conflagration. Fire officials are united in the opinion that an arsonist birthed this fire. It takes very little imagination or even research to confirm that there were no lightning strikes in the district the night of Oct. 25.
But at 1:12 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, someone reported a fire just south of Cabazon, near Esperanza Road. County engine 24 from Cabazon responded first, according to Julie Hutchinson, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) public information officer. Not much later, the call went out to the Forest Service that the Esperanza Fire was spreading south into the district and up the mountain toward Twin Pines. At least four engines were initially deployed.Other firefighters were being called out quickly. B.J. Scott, a Vista Grande Hotshot, was home sleeping. He did not have to report until 9 a.m., but his phone rang about 2 a.m. “The fire’s spreading, come now!” was the direction.
On the way to the station, he saw the flames already approaching Twin Pines. He detoured to alert his parents, who live there. They were startled and surprised to hear knocking at the door around 3:30 a.m. and a flashlight shining. “What kind of burglar knocks?” asked Ed Scott, B.J.’s father. The smoke was getting denser, the breathing harder and the Scotts evacuated by 6:30 a.m. They watched and followed neighbors leave with horses tied to the rear of vans. The traffic increased and the pace slowed.
At about 7:30 a.m., four Forest Service engines — Kenworthy, Keenwild, Vista Grande and Alandale — were deployed along Gorgonio View Road. The smoke got so dense that some men reported difficulty seeing the outlines of their comrades less than 10 feet away. At about 7:48 a.m., someone said over a radio, “The fire is getting closer to 243. We’ve got a major firestorm going on that area; thinking it’s on the south side.” Contrary to reports, the smoke made it impossible to see other units. Each man and unit was worrying about their own safety. Then suddenly, an open mike from someone’s radio went on. Standard procedure is to take a quick roll call to determine whose radio is on and the reason.
“Suddenly there was no Loutzenhiser,” Walker said. Walker was at the initial command post in Cabazon, but he was listening to all the radio traffic. These four engines all reported to him. These were his men and colleagues. He did not wait. He ran out, jumped in his vehicle and dashed up the mountain to the fire. Within minutes, the firefighters on scene were calling for emergency medical help. First, ambulances were dispatched, but quickly helicopters replaced them. By the time Walker arrived on the scene, Alandale Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser and Pablo Cerda, the lone survivors, were in the helicopter and being transported to the burn center at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center. Yet three crews still had to face the bodies of three other friends and partners.
Photographs depict a war zone. Everything is shades of gray, even the green Forest Service engine 57. Trees are black, no leaves, a house is barely a frame. The ground’s colors are black and gray, no brown or ochre. The open-mike radio was basically melted. “You guys have done all you can here,” Walker told his troops. “It’s so hard for them,” he said Friday. “There will be better times.” By noon, news of Loutzenhiser’s death started to spread. Thirty hours later was not a better day for Walker, although the Forest Service’s support and the community’s help eased the pain some. Counselors arrived Friday and Saturday to help the families first and then the district staff.
But firefighters are quiet people, not known for their extroversion. Talking about their feelings and fears will not be easy or comfortable. Walker told his crews, “You tell us when you’re ready to go back.” He does not want someone on the line who is not prepared to fight a fire with their full attention. Any distraction or lapse could be fatal, even when nature does not stack the deck like last week.
In the interim, the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and the Cleveland National Forest had crews here Thursday afternoon or evening. The district was still being protected while the local firefighters recovered from a devastating blow.
On Friday when the Esperanza incident command was looking at contingencies in case the Fire turned toward the Hill, Dale Hutchinson, CDF battalion chief, called Walker. He asked if Walker or any of the local staff wanted to be involved in the attack plans. But in a sign of the cooperation and mutual reliance in the district, Walker replied, “Whatever you need, just do it. Your guys know the area, too.”
Saturday afternoon, all but one of the San Jacinto Ranger District guard stations were open. Walker knows his staff. Friday, he said they would return quickly and could never forsake the community they live in and protect. “They’re professional firefighters and want to get back in the engine,” he predicted. “But they are sitting out this one unless it moves this way [toward the Idyllwild and Pine Cove communities].”
The Forest Service will investigate the accident. This is standard procedure for any fire. But no one has identified any flaws in the crew’s efforts. “Safety came first to Capt. Loutzenhiser,” Walker stressed. “He trained his crewed. But all the elements lined up beyond his control.” Walker knows that the close-knit firefighting fraternity will have to recover and get back in the engine. But the rest of the district is shocked, also. “The San Jacinto district always has been closer than most districts,” Walker said. “Whether it is the isolation from the San Bernardino or Cleveland forests on top of the mountain or the small town of Idyllwild at its hub, it’s a real tight gang and fire is not separate.”
- Heroes Honored
11/06/2006 | The Santa Barbara Sun: Online Article by Debbie Pfeiffer Trunnell
DEVORE - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, other dignitaries and firefighting personnel stood in front of a black banner bearing a firefighter's boot and the words "Always Remember" on Sunday as they paid tribute to the five firefighters who died battling the Esperanza Fire. They were joined at the memorial service at the Hyundai Pavilion at Glen Helen by about 8,000 others, including firefighters from as far away as New York, grieving family members and those who did not know the men but still wanted to pay their respects to U.S. Forest Service Engine Company 57.
"Engine 57 was a team of professionals, well-led, well-equipped and well-suited for this emergency," said Tom Harbour, director of fire and aviation management for the Forest Service. "We wish they could be with us, but they have anchored our line. They have our backs. We can bump up, move forward, move ahead."
Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto; fire-engine operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; and assistant fire-engine operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan died Oct. 26, the first day of the fire that burned more than 40,000 acres and destroyed 34 homes along the base of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Hoover-Najera, McLean and McKay died at the scene. Loutzenhiser died later that day at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley clung to life at the medical center until Oct. 31.
Raymond Lee Oyler of Beaumont has been charged with five counts of murder, 11 counts of arson and 10 counts of use of an incendiary device in connection with the fire.
Photographs of the five firefighters were placed side-by-side with their helmets on black tables near the stage during the memorial service.
A few feet from their smiling portraits, family members shaded their faces from the sun with umbrellas. Behind them, row after row of blue seats were filled with firefighters from stations across the country.Dignitaries such as Schwarzenegger; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands; Rep. Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs; Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto; and Mark Rey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture spoke in honor of the five and offered words of comfort to their families.
"There is no one more courageous than the fallen men of the Esperanza Fire," Schwarzenegger said. "We will never forget their honor, valor and sacrifice."
Feinstein told Loutzenhiser's widow that the 21-year Forest Service veteran was much loved and respected. "Engine Company 57 made the ultimate sacrifice. These five men were on the front lines protecting lives, and they are truly heroes," Feinstein said. Addressing the couple's five children, she said, "Your dad was great in all of our lives." She told the widow of McLean, who served seven years with the Forest Service, that he was a thoughtful, good man who will be missed.
McKay, who had five years with the Forest Service, was remembered as a decent young man who always wanted to be a firefighter. Hoover-Najera, the youngest of the crew, was remembered as someone who was destined to be a firefighter.
Of Cerda, Feinstein said the service and the terrible burns sustained by the young man, who graduated in May from the Fire Academy at Riverside Community College, will not be forgotten. Cerda was a seasonal firefighter for Engine 57 for three seasons.
Norm Walker, division chief of the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest, lightened the mood by recalling how the men worked to spruce up their fire station. McLean and Loutzenhiser would "double-team" him and offer to wash his car in exchange for permission to fix up the station. Walker said he would always drive away with a clean car.
Over time, they designed and remodeled the office, put in a new tile floor, restored the ceiling and landscaped the grounds, Walker said. "This high-performing team never quit improving their firehouse," he said.
Jeanne Wade Evans, forest supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest, described the five men as brave professionals and pillars of their communities. The tragedy of their loss has caught the attention of the nation, she said.
Fourteen active and seven retired New York City firefighters made the cross-country trip for the service. "The fire service is one brotherhood regardless of where you live," said Jack Toale, president of the FDNY Retirees of California 19th Division. "Firefighters from here supported us after 9/11 when we had 35 to 40 funerals a week," said retired New York firefighter Danny Noonan. "So we are here for them now."
Tribute was also paid to the men by the California Professional Firefighter Pipe and Drum Band - a posting of colors and procession of fellow firefighters with the San Jacinto Ranger District. An aerial tribute, with planes and helicopters flying overhead, marked the end of the service.
"If there is any joy and happiness that can come out of this, it is their reunion in heaven," said Peggy Avila of Devore, whose husband and two sons are firefighters. She placed a bouquet of sage and feathers wrapped in a handkerchief in front of the photo of Hoover-Najera.
- Addressed To: All Federal Wildland Firefighting resources, Region 5, California
From: William Molnar, Regional Fire Engine Captains' representative
Regarding: Esperanza Fire Tragedy / October 30, 2006
Dear friends and fellow firefighters, I am saddened and at an enormous loss for words to express the tragedy and loss of lives we have suffered on the San Bernardino National Forest. These brave men and co-workers were a piece of our foundation and represented the valiant efforts and duties that each of us performs each fire season in Region 5 - California.
These were not just Wildland Firefighters who were injured and killed in the line of duty; these are our brothers, friends, family members, sons, husbands and so much more. I apologize for this delay in response but the grief here on the San Bernardino National Forest is greater than most can imagine and more than any family should endure.
As the Chair Elect of the California Fire Engine Captains group representing California's region 5, I offer our groups most humble and sincere condolences to each and every friend and family member of our fallen firefighters as well as our hopes, thoughts and prayers for Pablo Cerda who is bravely fighting for his life.
The Captains' Group in the Region has been shaken at our foundation over our loss of these souls and there have been many requests to help, assist and provide comfort in many ways that are generous in nature.
I ask that each of you keep these families in your thoughts and prayers, I ask that each of you stand down with your crews and review safety protocols and procedures and most of all, I ask that all of us take time to ensure that each of our employees know that they are more than just someone we work with, they represent the fabric of our efforts in wildland firefighting amongst Forest Service Fire Engines throughout California!
These men will be greatly missed: Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild; Fire Engine Operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; Assistant Fire Engine Operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; and firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto. They died in the line of duty and endured the ultimate sacrifice for the public they served.
As the regional Captains' representative, I encourage all who read this letter to join the Wildland Firefighter Foundation "52 Club" and make donations that truly make a difference to all who have been touched by these tragedies. This is one of the most compassionate and significant acts of kindness that each of us can contribute in this time of great sorrow. We are truly fortunate to have such an organization who serves as our wings of hope and a guiding light in the face of great tragedy.
With sincere and heart felt condolences from all of our Captains and Firefighters who represent the Fire Engine Workforce throughout California,
/s/ William Molnar, U.S. Forest Service, Regional Captains' group, Representative - Region 5
- Del Rosa IHC Engine 57 Memorial Website: Engine 57 Memorial (No longer online)
- FWFSA Press Release - 96K pdf: Honoring E-57 Fallen
- Engine 57 Firefighters Memorial Webpage by Wes Schultz: Memorial
- Wildlandfire.com Memorial Service Photo Page: Photos
- USFA Database: Mark Allen Loutzenhiser | Jess Edward Mclean | Jason Robert McKay | Pablo Cerda | Daniel Kurtis Hoover-Najera
- The Press-Enterprise Coverage, Riverside, CA: Esperanza Fire (No longer online.)
- From Bonnie McKay, Mother of Jason McKay-Engine 57
It’s been one year of thousands of moments, we have missed you so
The emptiness within our hearts, stays with us as we go.
The Santa Ana winds are blowing, reminding us of then,
When thoughts of saving lives meant more, from that you could not mend.
We pray the loss of life you gave, was not something made in vain
That people now protect their homes, with space away from flames
And always be the first to go, when told that danger’s coming
The painful outcome for not, is very cold and numbing
Your love within us always remains like you, we pass it on
The firefighters who mourned with us, are family never gone
Pray for the safety of each one, as they give you all they've got
By “Always Remembering” this, and “Thanking” them a lot
- 10/25/2012, From Chief John Hawkins, Unit Chief, Riverside Unit in preparation for the 6th anniversary
Six years ago tomorrow morning at about 0100 hours, the October 26, 2006 Esperanza Fire raged out of Cabazon and headed toward Twin Pines and Poppet Flats. Santa Ana Winds were strongly blowing and drove the fire up and over and around Cabazon Peak. At about 0730 hours, the fire ran over five valiant USFS firefighters who were trying to defend a residential structure at 15400 Gorgonio View Drive north of Twin Pines Road. On that terrible morning, the Esperanza Fire fatally burned the following from San Bernardino National Forest Engine 57, Alandale:
· Captain Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, Idyllwild, California
· Engineer Jess McLean, 27, Beaumont, California
· Assistant Engineer Jason McKay, 27, Apple Valley, California
· Firefighter Pablo Cerda, 23, Fountain Valley, California
· Firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, San Jacinto, California
The fire took from us five dear friends and strong firefighters. They were doing what every firefighter wants to do. That is make a difference, save life and property and serve the public. Tragically, they paid the ultimate price. For many of us who suffered with the fire and the losses, life will never be the same. But, we must work to heal our difficult thoughts and try our best to never again have such an awful loss of life. We do know that fire will again challenge us as we enter a Santa Ana Wind event tonight through Saturday.
Tomorrow morning at 7:57am (time when we first learned of the burn over), the Perris ECC will announce the Esperanza Fire anniversary and ask for a moment of silence in honor of the loss of Captain Loutzenhiser, Engineer McLean, Assistant Engineer McKay, FF Hoover-Najera and FF Cerda. At that time, I ask all of our on-duty personnel to lower their heads and recognize the USFS firefighters. My heartfelt feelings of loss go out to the families of the lost firefighters and to the USFS family. Our lasting feelings will always be with the surviving firefighters, the families who incurred the losses and all of the USFS family.
Thank you very much.
- Esperanza Fire Five Years Later, Danger Remains: Press Enterprise article
- The Boot, from the E-57 Memorial webpage, no longer online
- 2015 Anniversary: More photos and remembrances from the WFF Facebook page.
Contributors to this article: J. Benshoof, Scott Roberts, Tom Patterson, Doug Campbell, Mellie, John Miller, Rene Vanderhooft, Bette Ashe, Mike Dietrich, Norm Walker, Ken Kempter, Dan Felix, Chief John Hawkins, and so many more...
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