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Utah Firefighter Dies Battling Largest Fire In California History

  • May 15, 2020
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NORTHERN CALIFORNIA — A Utah firefighter who died Monday while battling the Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California was identified Tuesday morning by the Draper City, Utah Fire Department as Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett. The chief was one of five Draper firefighters deployed to the wildfires in Lake, Mendocino and Colusa counties, officials with the city’s fire department said in a news release.

“… The team has worked tirelessly to protect lives and property,” Draper FD officials said. “The entire community of Draper is grieving our loss.”

Burchett, 42, leaves behind a wife and a young son. He is the 11th person to die this California fire season.

“This is not only a loss for our Draper Fire Department, but a loss for all fire departments in the nation,” Draper Fire Department officials said. “We appreciate all the heartfelt support from the Draper community, Cal Fire, the state of Utah, and our family of firefighters from across the nation.”

Cal Fire confirmed Monday night that a firefighter fatality had occurred at the Mendocino Complex Fire, the name for both the Ranch and River fires, which together are considered the largest fire in California state history. Burchett was working on an active portion of the Ranch Fire when he was injured before he was airlifted to a local hospital where he died from his injuries, officials said.

Some 3,100 personnel were still assigned Monday to the 350,000-plus-acre complex of wildfires.

“We are extremely heartbroken for this loss,” one Cal Fire chief said. “We are dedicated to investigating what happened and will release more information as it become available.”

“We also mourn as we also battle California’s largest wildfire that continues to burn in extremely steep and remote terrain,” the official said.

Nearly 150 homes have been destroyed since the Mendo Complex Fire first broke out July 27. The cause remains under investigation.

On Monday, the Ranch Fire burning northeast of Ukiah continued to be active, with crews tying in containment lines south of the Eel River, officials said.

Another two firefighters have been injured while battling the blazes.

Cal Fire’s Mendocino and Sonoma-Lake-Napa units are managing the firefight along with the U.S. Forest Service.

Crews were expected to continue Tuesday engaging on the active front of the Ranch Fire, with containment efforts underway on both the east and west flanks of the fire, working to protect the communities of Lake Pillsbury and Stonyford, Cal Fire officials said.

“Fire crews are working in difficult conditions and terrain to bring the fire around threatened communities and back into the Mendocino National Forest,” Cal Fire said. “Firefighters are actively engaging in structure protection where the fire has already reached structures and communities. The south side of the fire has had no significant events and remains in a suppression repair status with patrol.”

Cooperating agencies include Potter Valley Fire, Redwood Valley Fire, Ukiah Fire, California Office of Emergency Services, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California SR Patrol, Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, Colusa County Sheriff’s Office, Glenn County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, Australia and New Zealand Fire, Bureau of Land Management, Hopland Fire, Lakeport Fire, PG&E, AT&T, California Conservation Corps, and additional agencies from throughout California and other states.

Photos via Draper City Fire Department Facebook page

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