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The Observer paper 12/24/14

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Home arrow Opinion arrow COMMUNITY GRIEVES LOSSES



Our community has been hit hard by tragedies of late. In the past week seven people dedicated to fighting forest fires have been killed in accidents related to their work — work intended to spare forests, houses and lives. As a community, our hearts go out to the families of the men and women who died, and to the other firefighters who worked with the victims and are suffering the trauma and shock of seeing their fellow firefighters killed.

THE TRAGEDIES OF THE PAST week are enormous — especially for one community. Not since the Storm King fire in Colorado in 1994 has a community had to come to grips with so much grief as ours has.

First came the C-130 air tanker crash in northern California, killing three pilots — Steve Wass, Craig LaBare and Mike David — who have made

La Grande their summertime home in years past and were scheduled to return here June 28. Last Friday, four members of a Grayback Forestry firefighting crew were killed when the van in which they were riding crashed on Interstate 70 in Colorado. They were on their way to help control the huge Hayman fire near Denver. The accident claimed the lives of Retha Shirley, 19, a 2001 graduate of La Grande High School; Daniel Rama, 28, a full-time firefighter and crew chief from Baker City; Jake Martindale, 20, of Boise; Zachary Zigich, 19, Twin Falls, Idaho; and Bartholomew Bailey, 20, of Corvallis.

Three other crew members were critically injured: Brandon Fiala, 22, of Twin Falls, Idaho; and Anthony Kyle, 32, of La Grande. All three suffered head injuries.

IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE THE LOSS that their families and fellow crew members are feeling. But they all should be aware that citizens everywhere are sharing the pain. As letters from Colorado have indicated, the people there are sharing the grief, too.

The unselfish commitment that firefighters make for the good of others is not something anyone takes lightly or for granted. Our hearts, our hopes and our prayers go out for the families and fellow crew members of the deceased, and for firefighters everywhere. Society appreciates what you do.


Readers are invited to send messages to our area's firefighters in the form of letters to the editor.

Tell the firefighters and their families how you feel about what they do and the sacrifices they make day in and day out while heading to, home from and while fighting wildland fires.

We'll publish the letters together later this week. Please try to keep the messages to 250 words or less. Letters that arrive by 5 p.m. Wednesday will appear in Friday's Observer.


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