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Arcadia firefighter found dead in Ventura wilderness

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Body of missing Arcadia firefighter found in Ventura wilderness

The body of an off-duty Arcadia firefighter who went missing two weeks ago in the Los Padres National Forest was found Friday, authorities said. 

Mike Herdman, 36, vanished June 13 during a four-day hike with a fellow firefighter. His body was found three-quarters of a mile and 1,200 feet above where he disappeared, said Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean during a news conference Friday afternoon. 

The body was found when a pilot and search crew flew over the area and noticed "something that didn't belong" in the rugged terrain below. The body was airlifted to a medical examiner's office, where the identity was confirmed using dental records.

The body was difficult to spot against the terrain and was covered up by brush, authorities said.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said that the discovery of Herdman's body was announced by Ventura County Sheriff's Department spokesman Don Aguilar. It was Sheriff Geoff Dean who made the announcement.

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A search effort has been underway since Herdman disappeared, although it was scaled back earlier this week.

When Herdman's dog, Duke, ran off the night he vanished, Herdman gave chase barefoot in only shorts and a T-shirt.

Duke was spotted several times throughout the week but wasn’t caught until Sunday, when a hiker found him at a trail head. Authorities described the dog as dehydrated and exhausted.

Dean said it was extremely unlikely that the dog could have helped find Herdman since the animal was found 14 miles from where it had first been spotted wandering in the wilderness.

Herdman, a husband and father, was familiar with the trail and was taking fellow Arcadia paramedic Tyler Byars on his first camping trip there. They were halfway into their four-day trip when Herdman disappeared.

Dean said Byars tried in vain to find Herdman through the night and the next day. He eventually tried to find his own way out and got lost. A pair of fishermen found Byars dehydrated, disheveled and disoriented and guided him back to the beginning of the trail head at Tar Creek, where Byars and Herdman’s trip began.

After making it back to his car, Byars drove to the sheriff’s station in Fillmore and reported his friend missing the night of June 15. A couple of deputies began searching that night and a full-scale search launched the next morning.

Dean said he could not overstate how difficult and dangerous the backcountry is where Herdman disappeared. Rescuers have been treated for heat exhaustion and injuries from rock slides.

Fillmore Fire Department Asst. Chief Bill Herrera was bitten by a rattlesnake and is being treated in an intensive care unit after needing 52 vials of antivenin to survive.

Mountain lions and bears scour the terrain, which is rife with thousand-pound boulders, hidden crevices and chest-high brush. Crews searched 20 miles along Sespe Creek and 50 square miles around it, Dean said.

The effort included about half a dozen sheriff’s departments, the Department of Homeland Security and two unmanned drones. In total, crew members have spent more than 4,600 hours searching for Herdman, Dean said.

“Our sympathies, our hearts go out to Mike Herdman's family, the public and fellow firefighters," Aguilar said during the conference.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and the Southland, follow @Caitlin__Owens, or email her at caitlin.owens@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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