Arizona wildfire deaths hit close to home for KATU News staffer

Arizona wildfire deaths hit close to home for KATU News staffer

PORTLAND, Ore. – The deaths of 19 firefighters battling a massive wildfire in Arizona hit close to home for one KATU staffer.

Our own Mike Warner was working in Arizona in 2004 as a TV photographer when he and two other staffers took part in firefighter training in an effort to get as close to fire lines as possible. The training was headed by Eric Marsh, the team leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the crew killed in Sunday’s wildfire.

Marsh was instrumental in signing off on Warner’s wildland firefighter certification.

Marsh’s death was especially stunning to Warner, now a KATU News photographer, because Marsh emphasized safety precautions to every trainee he advised.

“He was the last guy you would expect that to happen to,” Warner said.

Warner said the reaction on Facebook and Twitter from fellow Marsh trainees echo his thoughts – the wildfire had to be especially horrible to claim the life of such a highly trained crew leader.

“No way … there’s no way it could be him. ‘Cause he was the last guy you would expect that to happen to, with all of the safety that he would constantly preach to you,” Warner said.

Warner’s training included fire shelter similar to what Marsh’s team tried to use to save their lives.

“That was a last resort. You always had to have a safe route, a safe place to go, and then an escape route. A safe zone and an escape route,” Warner said. “He preached that all the time.”

Marsh was remembered in a ceremony on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday in Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of a West Linn native, John Percin Jr., who was also killed in the wildfire.

It was the nation's biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years and the deadliest single day for firefighters since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.