The firefighter who died battling the El Dorado Fire in California was identified by officials as a husband and father who’d fought blazes for the state for nearly 20 years.
Charlie Morton, squad boss for the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew, died on Thursday in San Bernardino National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement. He was 39.
Morton’s cause of death was not revealed, though the statement said he died “while engaged in fire suppression operations.”
“Charlie was a well-respected leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen said. “Our hearts go out to Charlie’s loved ones, coworkers, friends and the Big Bear Hotshots. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”
Morton was a native of San Diego, and kicked off his career in 2002 with the California Conservation Corps at the Butte Fire Center in Magalia, according to the statement. Four years later, he moved to Firestorm Fire Suppression in Chico.
He joined San Bernardino National Forest in 2007, and worked for various districts during his time there.
“Charlie is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins and friends,” his family said in a statement. “He’s loved and will be missed. May he rest easy in heaven with his baby boy.”
A “hotshot” fire crew like Morton’s is one made up of highly trained and experienced firefighters, and there are just 68 crews nationwide, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.
They’re typically assigned to the most difficult parts of a fire, and use different specialized hand tools, like chainsaws and fireline explosives.
Big Bear Hotshots was established in 2001, and is part of a wider net of hotshot crews that the U.S. Forest Service has called “the backbone of wildland firefighting.”
Morton was battling the El Dorado Fire alongside his colleagues when he died, a blaze that began on Sept. 5 and is said to have started because of a “gender reveal” party gone wrong.
The fire was sparked by a “smoke generating pyrotechnic device” used during the party, according to Cal Fire.
The blaze is 60 percent contained after burning 22,588 acres across San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, Cal Fire said.
As of Monday, 27 major wildfires are burning in California, and there have been 26 fatalities and 6,400 structures destroyed statewide.
To help communities facing destructive wildfires in the Western U.S., consider donating to the following organizations:
• The American Red Cross allows donors to direct funds to support people impacted by the fires.
• GlobalGiving’s Wildfire Relief offers emergency funding to local efforts providing essentials to wildfire victims in need.
• GoFundMe’s California Wildfire Relief Fund aims to “support a range of needs” by issuing “grants to individuals, organizations and communities that have either been impacted themselves or are dedicated to helping."
• The California Fire Foundation “provides emotional and financial assistance to families of fallen firefighters, firefighters and the communities they protect."
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