SAN DIEGO – A state firefighter who died battling the largest wildfire recorded in California's modern history was putting out a spot fire when he found himself trapped by the flames being fanned by gusty winds, fire officials said.
A preliminary report by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says Cory Iverson, 32, died Dec. 14 battling the Thomas Fire in Ventura County after running for his life through head-high vegetation and becoming trapped in a dead-end gulch.
Cal Fire said in the report released Tuesday to the San Diego Union Tribune that Iverson and four other firefighters were laying hose along a bulldozer-created fire break when they turned their attention to a spot fire that flared up about 20 feet (6 meters).
As Iverson reached the second spot and began to take action, it erupted. Almost simultaneously, more spot fires broke out, cutting off his escape route, officials said.
Iverson radioed for "immediate air support" and ran down a hill trying to escape, the report said.
Personnel on two helicopters dumping water on the flames to try to create an escape route saw him fall and get back up again, eventually ending up in the gulch, where his body was found.
The vegetation was chest- to head-high, the report stated "and in some cases all that could be seen was the top of his helmet."
Iverson died of thermal injuries and smoke inhalation, it said.
The rest of the strike team was able to get out uninjured.
The Thomas fire that began Dec. 4 is the largest recorded in the state. It was 92 percent contained Thursday, when firefighters were still putting out hot spots and smoldering areas. The massive blaze covered more than 440 square miles (1,140 sq. kilometers) in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, killed two people, destroyed entire neighborhoods and threatened coastal foothill communities.
Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.utsandiego.com