Escondido firefighter dies in Thomas Fire

Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson with his wife, Ashley Iverson, and daughter, 2 1/2 yr old Evie Iverson/Iverson family photo

California fire officials say the massive Thomas Fire has claimed the life of an Escondido firefighter.

The body of Cory Iverson, a 32-year-old father from Escondido, was driven out of the fire zone in a procession as firefighters lined the road saluting in respect. He had been with Cal Fire since 2009. The San Diego County resident is survived by his wife, Ashley, and a 2-year-old daughter. His wife is pregnant with their second daughter, due in the spring.

“I am very saddened to report that a firefighter fatality has occurred on the Thomas Incident,” Chief Ken Pimlott, the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, tweeted earlier in the day.

“Please join me in keeping our fallen firefighter and his loved ones in your prayers and all the responders on the front lines in your thoughts as they continue to work under extremely challenging conditions,” Pimlott said.

Officials said Iverson died north of the town of Fillmore in Ventura County. Cal Fire San Diego Chief Tony Meacham said at a media briefing in Escondido that the fallen fire apparatus engineer had been with a five-engine strike team and engaged in a “very active part of the fire” just outside of Fillmore when the accident happened.

Mecham said he had “very limited” details on how he died, but said he was “outside the fire engine” at the time of the accident. Mecham said Iverson and his five-firefighter strike team were engaged with a very active part of the fire near Fillmore, California, when the accident occurred.

All 17 of the firefighters on the strike team have been pulled off the fire lines. They had been at the Thomas fire since Dec. 5.

Meacham said he learned of Iverson’s death when he took “the call that no fire chief ever wants to receive.”

“It just stunningly took my breath away,” Meacham said.

Iverson had been a firefighter with Cal Fire since 2009. He is survived by his wife, Ashley, who is pregnant, and their 2-year-old daughter.

During Iverson’s Cal Fire career, he had worked in Tuolumne County in Central California, and also in Riverside County at the Hemet-Ryan Helitack Base before his assignment in Dulzura.

It was the second death attributed to the fire. Last week a 70-year-old woman was found dead in a car which apparently crashed as she was trying to evacuate from the fire zone.

“… [P]lease join me in keeping our fallen firefighter and his loved ones in your prayers all the responders on the front lines in your thoughts as they continue to work under extremely challenging conditions,” Pimlott said.

“Anne and I are saddened by Engineer Cory Iverson’s tragic death,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement, also passing along the condolence of his wife. “His bravery and years of committed service to the people of California will never be forgotten.”

As many as six wildfires were blazing through California’s arid landscape last week. The Thomas fire, the largest of them, began as a 50-acre brush fire in the foothills of Santa Paula on Dec. 4, officials said.

A procession carries the body of fallen firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, a member of Cal Fire’s San Diego unit who died battling the Thomas fire as it spread toward Santa Barbara/Courtesy

The Thomas fire was 35 percent contained by Thursday evening after burning through about 249,5000 acres. A total of 8,300 fire personnel are battling the Thomas fire, which is currently threatening at least 18,000 structures, according to Cal Fire. Chief Todd Durum from Cal Fire said the fire had cost $82 million so far.

The Thomas Fire has charred 249,500 acres and is only 35 percent contained. It is now reported to be the fourth-largest fire in California history. Officials say they don’t expect to fully contain it until Jan. 7.

A CalFire progress report issued Thursday evening said, “A Red Flag Warning will continue until 10:00 AM Friday. Current weather patterns and rugged terrain make firefighting efforts very difficult.”

More than 8,300 firefighters are battling the blaze, which is estimated to have caused more than $82.1 million in firefighting costs. Hot gusty winds and bone-dry fuels continue to feed the fire as it threatens communities in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. It has destroyed more than 900 structures, including 730 homes, as it continues to threaten about 18,000 buildings.

The last time Santa Barbara County saw such a ferocious blaze was 10 years ago, when the Zaca Fire burned just over 240,000 acres. The Thomas Fire has surpassed that and is still growing.

“This thing is 60 miles long and 40 miles wide,” fire behavior analyst Tim Chavez told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s a lot of fire out there.”

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