SAN BERNADINO, California (KTLA) – U.S. Forest Service officials on Monday identified the firefighter who died battling a wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest as Charles Morton, a squad boss for the Big Bear Hotshot Crew.
“Charlie was a well-respected leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to Charlie’s loved ones, coworkers, friends and the Big Bear Hotshots. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”
Morton, 39, died Sept. 17 while battling the El Dorado Fire, a 22,588-acre wildfire caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used at a gender-reveal party at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa.
Morton is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins and friends.
“He’s loved and will be missed. May he rest easy in heaven with his baby boy,” his family said in a statement released by the Forest Service.
Officials have not released information on Morton’s death. Law enforcement and fire crews began searching for a missing crew member near Pinezanita, which is northeast of Angelus Oaks late on Sept. 17. Authorities later later confirmed the firefighter’s death was related to the search, but added no further details.
Morton, who was born in San Diego, worked with the Forest Service for 14 years, joining the Truckee Interagency Hotshots in the Tahoe National Forest in 2006. He then joined crews at the San Bernardino National Forest in 2007.
He began his career as a corpsman with the California Conservation Corps at the Butte Fire Center in Magalia, moving to the 2006 fire season with Firestorm Fire Suppression in Chico.
“The San Bernardino National Forest is grateful for the support that has been extended through this tragic event,” officials said in a statement.
Hotshot fire crews are made up of highly-trained firefighters who are usually assigned to the “toughest part of a fire” and they use a variety of hand tools like chainsaws and fireline explosives, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.
There are only 68 hotshot crews with a total of 1,360 firefighters nationwide, according to the group.
The El Dorado, which ignited on Sept. 5 during scorching hot temperatures, has destroyed four homes, damaged another two and burned 10 outbuildings. It was 60% contained Monday night.