Report: Burnover caused death of Calif. hotshot crew boss in September

Firefighter Charles Edward Morton, head of the Big Bear Hotshots crew, was killed after being overcome by flames from the El Dorado Fire, according to a report recently made public


Brian Rokos
San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, Calif. — The Big Bear Hotshots crew boss who died fighting the El Dorado fire in the San Bernardino Mountains was killed when flames overwhelmed him, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The information was contained in what is known as the "72 Hour Report" that is filed three days after a USFS fatality but is not immediately released publicly. It is posted on the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center website under the Incident Review Database.

A report recently made public reveals that Firefighter Charles Edward Morton, the boss of the Big Bear Hotshots crew, was killed when he was burned over during the El Dorado Fire in September.
A report recently made public reveals that Firefighter Charles Edward Morton, the boss of the Big Bear Hotshots crew, was killed when he was burned over during the El Dorado Fire in September. (Photo/U.S. Forest Service)

Charles Edward Morton, 39, a firefighter for 18 years, died near Angelus Oaks.

"On September 17, 2020 while conducting suppression efforts, it appears he was burned over by the fire and passed away," the report said. It provided no further narrative of how the burn over happened.

Imani Lester, a Forest Service spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said in a phone interview on Wednesday, Oct. 28, that no additional information was available. The investigation is being slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said is making it difficult for investigators to meet.

Final reports on federal firefighter deaths typically take many months to complete and be made public.

Hotshot crew members are elite firefighters who hike into or are dropped into remote areas to extinguish blazes and build fire breaks with only the tools that they carry.

Morton was engaged to be married to Monica Tapia of Irvine.

The fire started when sparks from a smoke-generating device set off during a gender-reveal photoshoot ignited the brush at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, Cal Fire said. The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office has not yet announced whether charges will be filed.

Also Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department said that missing Big Bear Hotshots crew member Carlos Baltazar has not been located. He was reported missing Sept. 20 while off duty and reportedly was upset by Morton's death.

"He is not considered missing under any suspicious circumstances. There has never been any indication of foul play. No one has had contact with him," sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller said in an email.

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(c)2020 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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