Laurie Rosenthal, San Jacinto district ranger, speaks to the crowd before the Engine 57 Baseball Tournament begins. Photo by Chuck Gibbs, USFS
Editor’s note: On Oct. 26, 2006, five local Forest Service firefighters — Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, Jason McKay, Jess McLean, Daniel Najera and Pablo Cerda — gave their lives fighting the Esperanza Fire. The community and their families will never forget them. In the past few weeks, several events have taken place commemorating this tragedy.

In Beaumont, Jess McLean’s family organized the third-annual Engine 57 Baseball Tournament at Noble Creek Park, which the city dedicated to Jess following his death. At this year’s event, San Jacinto District Ranger Laurie Rosenthal said a few words honoring the fallen firefighters on behalf of the district. After a moment of silence, the Forest Service honor guard presented the colors, which were followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Smokey Bear threw out the first pitch.

San Jacinto District Ranger Laurie Rosenthal’s speech for the baseball tournament in observance of the Esperanza fifth anniversary:

It’s hard to believe it has been five years ... in one way, so much has happened since that day that is seared in our memories, hearts, and history. In another way, five years is hardly any time at all. It does not dilute the memory, pain, longing, and gratitude for those who are no longer with us.

The Forest Service honor guard before the ceremony begins. Photo by Chuck Gibbs, USFS
This unforgettable arson-caused fire claimed the lives of our five friends and District employees, Mark Loutzenhiser, Jess McLean, Jason McKay, Pablo Cerda, and Daniel Hoover Najera. The Engine 57 company perished while protecting life, property and resources in the Mountain communities of Twin Pines, Poppet Flats and Idyllwild. Today we join to honor their memories and also to acknowledge those firefighters who were the “boots on the ground” with their fallen comrades, and who risked their own lives that day.

Mark, Jess, Jason, Pablo, and Daniel. We’ve kept their memories alive as we have focused on living, moving on in time while holding timeless our love and respect for those five men.

But we also focus at this five-year mark, on the courage and willingness to serve of every first responder, and in particular, those who were involved in the initial rescue and recovery efforts of the Engine 57 crew. Living-with-risk is a fact of life, all in a day’s work in fire, but it affects life and daily work for those who respond first, in ways that we who stand on the sidelines cannot ever really know or understand.

And so, I want to recognize all firefighters. I believe that those who live on the razor’s edge must understand the value of living life fully, in the moment. The Latin adage, “Carpe Diem” (seize the day) might have been written for emergency responders, for they know more than most, how much each day must be seized, lived, and valued. Our five guys also knew and lived that adage, and our honoring of them requires that we, too, seize the day, live each moment to its fullest.

I’d venture to say that all of us close to these men and to the reality of a first responder’s primary duty have learned through this event.... as well as through all the outpouring of caring, love, and support in the last five years since the fall of our brothers ...

I’d venture to say that we’ve learned that in such love, our salvation lies. I know that I have.

The owners of the Twin Pines property, where the Forest Service firefighters perished, have erected a memorial. On Oct. 26, members of the families gathered for a ceremony. From left, Gloria Najera-Ayala, Michael Ayala, Monica Ayala, Tesha Loutzenhiser, Seth Loutzenhiser, Maria Loutzenhiser, Kyle Loutzenhiser, Karen Meyen (formerly McLean), Ceil McLean, Rikk Najera and Vivian Najera, as well as Denise Koeller and Greg Koeller (owners of Octagon house). Photo by Janey Espinoza