Family, Loved Ones, Firefighters Recall USFS Engine 57 Crew on Red Flag Day

The arson-set fire started in Cabazon near Esperanza Avenue early Oct. 26, 2006, burned up a drainage into Twin Pines and overwhelmed the five-member crew of Engine 57, who were set up to protect a vacant home on Gorgonio View Road.

On a day when red flag warnings for explosive fire growth potential were in effect across Southern California, family, loved ones and firefighters gathered on Gorgonio View Road to remember the five members of U.S. Forest Service Engine Crew 57 who were killed six years ago on Oct. 26, 2006.

The arson-set Esperanza Fire became a wind-driven firestorm early that day and claimed the lives of Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, Pablo Cerda, 24, Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, Jason Robert McKay, 27, and Jess Edward McLean, 27, who were set up to protect a vacant home on Gorgonio View, between Cabazon and Twin Pines.

Raymond Lee Oyler, a mechanic with ties to Cabazon, Banning and Beaumont, was convicted in March 2009 of five counts of murder, and sentenced to death.

Cal Fire Capt. Josh Bischof, who was in the Gorgonio View area the morning of Oct. 26, 2006, brought a crew of inmate firefighters from Oak Glen to pay their respects, and to show them the lay of the land and discuss what occurred.

"Basically I'm here to remember the fallen, and to help ensure that we learn from the past," Bischof said. "One of the most important things in our job is training. History repeats itself, and it's a valuable teaching tool. We've been talking about situational awareness, weather, fuel and topography."

Family members of Loutzenhiser, Cerda, Hoover-Najera, McKay and McLean held hands at noon in front of a memorial for Engine 57, as Cal Fire and Forest Service radio operators announced a moment of silence, underscored by the reminder "Always remember Oct. 26, 2006."

McKay's mother, Bonnie McKay of Apple Valley, said she hopes people across Southern California consider the date and remember how precious life is.

"We are all of us, including the firefighters, we're a very close family," McKay said of the gathering on Gorgonio View. "We were before but even more now. A very tight family.

"It's something we want everyone to remember," she said. "And remember to always make sure you tell the people you love that you love them. Don't figure you've got tomorrow, because tomorrow's not promised to anyone. We live in the moment so you definitely have to tell them in the moment. That's the main thing, tell your loved ones how you feel about them."

Forest Service Battalion Chief Chris Fogle was set up on structure protection nearby on Wonderview Road six years ago and he was one of the first to respond when the firestorm engulfed the crew of Engine 57.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't remember the guys," Fogle said. "We come out here, pay our respects, meet with the families, talk with them if they have any questions. Like I said there's not a day that goes by that I don't remember them, and remember what happened."

Vivian Najera, Hoover-Najera's aunt, said she appreciates that people remember the date her nephew was fatally injured.

"Our guys gave their lives that day," she said. "We want everyone to remember that. They were here protecting property. The main thing is education. The fire crews today, that they remember their safety comes first.

"Daniel was so young, he was a firefighter for two weeks, so he was just a baby."

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Mariana Zuelsdorf October 27, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Sending heartfelt blessings to each family member. Those valiant firefighters gave the ultimate to help, and protect, others. God bless you all.


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