Officials identify Utah battalion chief killed in Calif. wildfire
Draper City Fire Department Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett was battling flames downstream of Lake Pillsbury’s Scott Dam when he was hit by a falling tree
By Nashelly Chavez and Randi Rossmann
The Press Democrat
DRAPER, Utah — A town about 20 miles south from the Utah capital mourned a local firefighter who died Monday evening while battling the Mendocino Complex fires, a set of dual fires that have burned more acres than any other in California’s history.
The firefighter, Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett, 42, worked for the Draper City Fire Department, and was one of five firefighters the agency sent to battle the Northern California blazes on Aug. 2, Draper Mayor Troy Walker said during a press conference Tuesday morning. The meeting was recorded live and posted online by the Salt Lake City-based news station KUTV.
Burchett was battling flames downstream of Lake Pillsbury’s Scott Dam when he was hit by a falling tree, Cal Fire Division Chief Todd Derum said. Three others from Kings County were injured in the incident, he said.
“It’s tough anytime we lose a brother. It’s hard,” Draper City Fire Department Battalion Chief Bart Vawdrey said during Tuesday’s recorded press conference. “This will be felt across the country.”
Burchett and the Utah crew were working alongside firefighters from Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties, who rushed to give him medical aid after he was injured, Derum said. Burchett was hired to oversee the agency’s wildland program in May after 20 years with the Unified Fire Authority, the state’s largest fire agency. He was regarded as an expert in wildland firefighting, Vawdrey said.
Burchett leaves behind a wife and a young son.
Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state capitol’s flags be flown a half-staff in Burchett’s honor on Tuesday.
“Our hearts ache for his wife and young son, family members, loved ones, colleagues with the Draper City Fire Department and the entire state of Utah,” Brown said in a statement.
The Ranch fire, the larger of the two fires, continued to gain ground on Monday night into Tuesday, growing to about 305,500 acres, up by 4,500 acres from the night before. It continued its push north into the Mendocino National Forest.
In total, both fires have burned through 349,890 acres and are 68 percent contained, though the River fire is no longer moving, Cal Fire said Tuesday morning.
The area’s thick vegetation and mountainous terrain remains an ongoing hurdle for crews on the ground, said Ian McDonald, a spokesperson for the Mendocino Complex fires.
Bulldozers will strengthen lines along the area’s Gilmore Ridge, moving north through the 2012 Mill fire scar toward Davis Flat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Construction of new containment lines along Cabbage Patch, Bushy Camp and the Noel Ridges areas will continue, the agency said Tuesday.
The Lake Pillsbury and Stonyford communities also were a priority, Cal Fire said.
“We’re going to continue working on those northeast and northwest corners,” McDonald said. “The plan is to really secure those corners to be able to concentrate on the northern portion of the fire and pinch it off.”
The Glenn County Sheriff’s Office issued mandatory evacuations orders for the Pleasant Valley area of the Mendocino National Forrest, located in the southwest portion of the county, on Tuesday afternoon.
Other mandatory evacuations remained in place for areas near the Lake-Mendocino and Lake-Colusa county lines, Cal Fire said.
A total of 1,025 structures were threatened by the Ranch Fire Tuesday morning, including homes surrounding Lake Pillsbury.