Now stupidity IS a felony; firefighter killed in the El Dorado Fire was a 14-year veteran (updated)

Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad Boss Charles Morton.

The death of a firefighter is never easy to report. And the unnecessary death of a firefighter is a shame to have to report.

Earlier this month, in Yucaipa, California, a family thought it was a good idea to, in the middle of a heat wave in a dry park, light off a smoke-producing incendiary device to let people know the sex of their unborn child during a gender-reveal party.

That incident sparked a wildfire that, as of Monday night, had burned more than 22,588 acres and destroyed a number of homes.

Now, that fire also has taken a life. A firefighter, Charles Morton, 39, a Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad Boss, died while trying to douse the flames started by these people.

“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 in a statement. “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 started his 14-year Forest Service career in 2006 with the Truckee Interagency Hotshots in the Tahoe National Forest, according to the agency, CBS News reported.

He then joined the San Bernardino National Forest crew in 2007 and worked in both the Front Country and Mountaintop Ranger Districts; for the Mill Creek Interagency Hotshots; Engine 31; Engine 19; and the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots.

Hotshot firefighters are some of the most highly trained and are often assigned to more challenging terrain, CBS reported. They are a hand crew of about two dozen who work in remote areas for an extended period of time with little support.

This truly is a major loss, to his family, the community and the fire service. It should never have happened. I wish his family, friends and colleagues all the best.

When it was revealed what had started the fire, I posted a blog headlined “Stupidity should be a felony,” hence the headline of this post.

After its publication, posters to a local social media site excused these people for their actions, saying everything from “it was an accident” to “they tried to put out the fire and stayed around to call 911.”

I don’t think any of those comments will ease the suffering of this brave firefighter’s family, friends and colleagues.

The action by these people was just plain stupid. There really is no other word for it. And now a death has resulted. I’m sure they feel bad, but not half as bad as the people this firefighter left behind.

I’m not saying what the penalty should be; that’s up to a judge. But when the actions of one person cause the death of another, that person must be held accountable, if for no other reason than to prevent it from happening again.

This from The Riverside Press-Enterprise: “On Thursday night, air crews began searching for a missing ‘hotshot’ near Pinezanita, according to a SoCal Air Operations’ Twitter page.

Although this was the first death from the El Dorado Fire, one of numerous blazes burning in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona, it was not the first injury.

It was reported that, as of Monday night, 13 people have been injured in the fire. In addition, four residences have been destroyed and two have been damaged.   

The blaze was 60 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service said Monday night. (Contained does not mean how much of the fire has been extinguished. It refers to how much of a control line has been placed around the blaze.)

The (Palm Springs) Desert Sun has reported that the family who planned the small gathering was cooperating with authorities.

Fire officials told the publication that family members called 911 after trying to extinguish the blaze themselves. They remained on the scene until firefighters arrived, according to the report.

Cal Fire Capt. Bennet Milloy said the blaze remains under investigation.

“Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially responsible and criminally responsible,” Cal Fire officials said.

Milloy said investigators are testing the mechanism used at the family gathering to see if it’s considered a “safe and sane” firework.

But he said “safe and sane” pyrotechnic devices are illegal in Yucaipa, a city in San Bernardino County, California.

There was nothing safe or sane about what these people did.

Published by Mike Sturman

I am a retired journalist with nearly 30 years in the field, during which time I was a reporter and held numerous editor positions at local newspapers and a number of magazines. After I retired, I was a sub in my local school district, then did PR for that district. I hold a Bachelor's Degree in journalism, and as for my politics, that's simple: I'm a liberal Democrat. I'm married, and my wife recently retired after 25 years as a teacher. We have one daughter, who has earned her PhD and works at a UC. Through this blog, I hope to pass on some interesting thoughts and ideas, entertain with some lighthearted posts and generally quell my pandemic-induced boredom.

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