U.S. Forest Service first-responders to the Esperanza Fire fatalities of Oct. 26, 2006, pose after being honored last Saturday. From left, Richard Gearhart, Chris Fogle and Freddie Espinoza; second row, John Fakehany, David Goldstein, Ryan Henninger, Chris Hardy, Darrell Arellano, Ryan Gonzales, Daniel Diaz, Adan Castro, Doug Donahoo, Jarod Baker, Paul Jacobs, Ian Governale, Shawn Evans and Rob Rambayon; back row, Mike Christian, Daniel Sepulveda, Josh Richardson, Aaron Reyes and Dave Patrick. Photo by Andy Verdugo, USFS

By Dan Felix
San Jacinto Ranger District Fire Management Officer

A memorial to the five fallen Forest Service firefighters has been maintained on Highway 74 in Valle Vista for the past five years. Dianne and Eddie Verdugo, retired captain of Engine 53, erected and kept the memorial. They frequently express the thought, from Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you ...” Photo by Kirsten Torrez
On Saturday night, Oct. 22, family, friends and colleagues gathered for a barbecue in Garner Valley to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Esperanza Fire fatalities.

As part of the remembrance of the five fallen firefighters, the San Jacinto Ranger District honored the firefighters who took part in the immediate rescue and recovery effort on that day. Their peers presented them with “challenge coins,” a tradition of some significance in wildland fire circles.

Also, a very special surprise was the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack that was bestowed on each honoree. In a letter to each person, she commended them “for the courage and determination ... displayed” in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Those honored were:
Engine 51

  • Richard Gearhart
  • Shawn Evans
  • John Fakehany
  • Eddie Harper
  • Darrel Arrelano
  • Mike Christian

Engine 52

  • Chris Fogle
  • Matt Boss, engineer on the San Jacinto Ranger District’s Engine 52, stops and mourns the loss of his friends and colleagues from Engine 57. The memorial was located at the Alandale station. File photo
  • Josh Richardson
  • Paul Jacobs
  • Aaron Reyes

Engine 54

  • Anna Dinkel
  • Josh Spoon
  • Jarod Baker
  • Adan Castro
  • Ian Governale

Engine 56

  • Freddie Espinoza
  • David Goldstein
  • Doug Donahoo
  • Ryan Henninger
  • Chris Mathews

March AFB Brush-10

  • Rod Rambayon
  • Gary Bicondova

Patrol 52

  • Chris Hardy

Helitack 535

  • Daniel Sepulveda
  • Daniel Diaz
  • Randy Ruiz
  • Ryan Gonzalez

Helitack 535 Pilot

  • Chris Templeton

Helitack 301 Pilot

  • Dave Patrick

Helitack 305 Pilot

  • George Karcher

Division Chief

  • Norm Walker
Tragedy struck Hill residents and the U.S. Forest Service when five firefighters — Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, Jason McKay, Jess McLean, Daniel Najera and Pablo Cerda — were fatally burned while attempting to protect this home on Gorgonio View Drive in Twin Pines. The crew’s burned out truck is visible in center. File photo