JASPER, Fla. – Two state forest rangers trapped by shifting flames died while fighting a wildfire that also injured two others near Jasper in north Florida, officials said Tuesday.
The rangers were working Monday to stop a rekindled blaze called the Blue Ribbon Fire in Hamilton County on the Georgia line, one of more than 400 wildfires currently burning around Florida in one of the busiest fire seasons in years.
The rangers killed were 31-year-old Josh Burch of Lake City and 52-year-old Brett Fulton of White Springs, said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Officials say the injured rangers, Robert Marvin and Stephen Carpenter, suffered smoke- and heat-related injuries while trying to help their fellow firefighters. They were treated and released from hospitals in Lake City and Gainesville.
The Blue Ribbon Fire started June 16 and had been declared contained before dry conditions allowed the fire to flare up again Monday
"Josh and Brett were cutting a fire line around the fire," Ivey said. "The wind changed and they became trapped by the flames and couldn't get out."
Both men were married. Fulton had two grown children and Burch had young two sons, ages 4 and 5, Ivey said. Burch had been with the department's Division of Forestry for ten years and Fulton for 11 years.
Gov. Rick Scott told CBS's "The Early Show" on Tuesday that his "heart goes out to the families."
"It's tragic, but pray for rain," Scott said. "It looks like we're going to start getting more rain tomorrow."
Scott said the rains are expected to begin in north Florida and then in the southern part of the state by the weekend.
"So that will damp this out and stop this," Scott said.
Forestry officials, though, have warned that lightning accompanying the rains may briefly worsen the situation before trees and underbrush become damp enough to resist burning.
Firefighters have fought more than 1,500 wildfires since May 1 that have burned nearly 200,000 acres across the state. That's made this one of the busiest wildfire seasons in recent Florida history. Florida firefighters have been facing an average of more than 31 new wildfires every day.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also expressed his sorrow "to the families and loved ones of the two courageous men who sacrificed their lives for the safety of others."
"We can rebuild the structures and restore the land, but the lives of these two heroes can never be replaced," Putnam said in a statement.