Advertisement

‘May he rest easy in heaven’: Procession honors firefighter killed in El Dorado fire

Charles Morton died while fighting the El Dorado fire on Sept. 17.
The casket of fallen Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Charles Morton leaves the San Bernardino County Coroner’s Division main in San Bernardino to be taken to a mortuary in Orange County.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A fallen firefighter who died battling the El Dorado fire was taken to an Orange County mortuary Tuesday morning, flanked by an honor guard from the U.S. Forest Service, as well as vehicles from the California Highway Patrol and other law enforcement and fire agencies.

The honorary procession — followed overhead by a small aerial fleet of news and first-responder helicopters — transported the body of Charles Morton, 39, from the main San Bernardino County coroner’s office to Ferrara Colonial Mortuary in Orange.

The procession began around 10:30 a.m. and traveled down the 215 Freeway, Highway 91, Imperial Highway and Santiago Canyon Road — eventually pulling up to the mortuary, at 351 N. Hewes St., shortly after 11 a.m.

Personnel from various fire agencies stationed themselves at several points along the route, standing near or atop their trucks to salute the passing procession.

Advertisement

As the motorcade arrived at the mortuary, it passed beneath a large American flag suspended between two ladder trucks. The last leg of the journey was flanked by dozens of uniformed personnel who had come to pay their respects.

Charles Morton, a Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad boss
Charles Morton, a Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad boss, who died while engaged in fire suppression operations on the El Dorado fire late Thursday.
(U.S. Forest Service)

Morton served for 14 years with the U.S. Forest Service, beginning with the Truckee Interagency Hotshots in the Tahoe National Forest, then the Mill Creek Interagency Hotshots and the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots in the San Bernardino National Forest.

He died Thursday while fighting the El Dorado fire, which has burned more than 22,500 acres in and around the San Bernardino National Forest near Yucaipa.

Advertisement

Morton is survived by his wife, daughter, parents and two brothers.

In a statement shared by the Forest Service on Monday, Morton’s family said, “He’s loved and will be missed. May he rest easy in heaven with his baby boy.”

Residents in the San Bernardino Mountains area also lined Highway 38 in respect Friday as the fallen firefighter’s body was removed from the fire zone in a procession of police and fire vehicles.

Advertisement

“Charlie was a well-respected leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times,” Vicki Christiansen, U.S. Forest Service chief, said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to Charlie’s loved ones, co-workers, friends and the Big Bear Hotshots. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”

Morton died 12 days after the El Dorado fire was sparked by a pyrotechnic device that was part of a gender-reveal party at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. The region was in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave, and flames chewed through the sunbaked grass that covered the hills of the park and quickly spread into the mountainous forest.

The fire was 60% contained as of Tuesday morning.

Forest Service officials previously said Morton died while engaged in fire suppression operations, though the precise cause and circumstances have yet to be officially released.

Advertisement

The firefighter killed while battling the El Dorado fire in San Bernardino was identified Monday as Charles Morton, a 14-year veteran with the U.S. Forest Service who led the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad.

He was the 26th person whose death was linked to a California wildfire since August and the third person involved in battling the blazes to die in that span.

On Aug. 19, a firefighting helicopter on a water-dropping mission crashed in Fresno County, killing the pilot, Michael John Fournier, 52, of Rancho Cucamonga.

Firefighter Diane Jones, 63, was fatally injured Aug. 31 while battling the Tatham fire in Tehama County, which was part of the sprawling August Complex fire north of the Bay Area. That fire is now considered the largest in California’s recorded history in terms of acreage burned.

Advertisement

Fears of a significant spread of the Bobcat fire dissipated as Santa Ana winds failed to materialize, but foothill communities remain on high alert.

Jones was repositioning an engine in the Mendocino National Forest when it backed over an embankment and into fire, officials said. She was a volunteer firefighter in Cresson, Texas, and had traveled to California with a private company to fight fires with her son, officials said.

California has seen an unprecedented fire season, with more than 7,900 wildfires burning over 3.6 million acres in the state this year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fires have destroyed more than 6,400 structures since mid-August, when a siege of dry lightning strikes sparked hundreds of blazes, some of which quickly spread through dry vegetation withered by a record-setting heat wave.

Advertisement

Experts say that climate change has played a role in the extreme conditions.


Advertisement