Brief sketches of the four firefighters who were killed battling a wildfire in Southern California, and a fifth firefighter who was critically burned:
—Mark Loutzenhiser: The crew’s engine captain was a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service and a certified emergency management technician who had studied fire science at Mt. San Jacinto College. He lived in Idyllwild with his wife and five children and was the assistant volleyball coach at Idyllwild School, where his three youngest children are students.
“Mark was entwined in every part of school life here,” said the school’s principal, Emily Shaw. Grief counselors had been called in to talk to students.
The school’s annual talent show was canceled after Loutzenhiser’s death. It was to be rescheduled and dedicated to the 44-year-old firefighter’s memory.
—Jess McLean: The crew’s engine operator was a seven-year veteran of the Forest Service who kept a small porcelain figure of a firefighter by the door of his stucco home in Banning. McLean, 27, liked to camp and ride his motorcycle to work, said next-door neighbor Marlene Lopez.
The blue-eyed, blond-haired firefighter lived with his wife, Karen, and their two dogs and liked to play soccer on the immaculately trimmed lawn in front of his home, Lopez said. She last saw him Tuesday when he dropped by to apologize for taking so long to complete a fence he was building between their houses.
—Jason McKay: The crew’s assistant engine operator had been with the Forest Service for five years and had also worked as a volunteer firefighter in Adelanto. A certified emergency medical technician, he had an associate degree in fire science. McKay, 27, lived in Phelan.
—Daniel Hoover-Najera: The 20-year-old firefighter graduated in 2004 from Mountain View High School in San Jacinto. He was about to complete his second wildfire season with the Forest Service.
A tearful Patrick Najera, Hoover-Najera’s grandfather, appeared on KCAL-TV holding a copy of a newspaper with a headline reading, ’They Never Had a Chance.’ “I’m going to be looking at this here for the rest of my life because I lost something very, very, very precious,” he said.
Gloria Ayala, Hoover-Najera’s mother, sobbed as she recalled getting word of her son’s death. She heard a knock on her door. “It was the two gentlemen dressed in uniform ... and I lost it,” she said.
—Pablo Cerda: The 23-year-old firefighter, who was hospitalized in critical condition with burns over 90 percent of his body, lives in Fountain Valley with his widowed father and other family members. A graduate of the Riverside Community College Fire Academy, he was in his second year of fighting fires for the Fire Service and planned to begin studying to become a paramedic after fire season.
“He wanted to be a firefighter, that was his dream,” said Jerry Eckert, who worked with Cerda at a supermarket and had known him for 12 years.