The investigation into how firefighter Eva Schicke was killed in a September wildfire might not be complete for several more months, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials said this week.
Turlock native Schicke, 23, was part of a helitack CDF crew that dropped into the Stanislaus National Forest near Groveland to fight a fire in the Tuolumne River canyon.
Witnesses have said sudden winds whipped the flames, which headed uphill and caught Schicke before she could run up the canyon wall and onto nearby Lumsden Road.
Schicke was the first female CDF firefighter to die in the line of duty.
An investigation team is locating and interviewing witnesses, Tuolumne-Calaveras Battalion Chief Richard Imlach said.
“That’s still an active investigation,” he said, adding it could be some time before investigators finish. “Six months isn’t out of the ordinary for them to finalize it.”
“Time is not their primary consideration” in these investigations, CDF spokeswoman Karen Terrill said.
The investigation involves CDF and U.S. Forest Service experts in fire behavior, weather behavior and helitack crews.
Investigators are attempting to narrow down the cause of the fire, which they haven’t classified as accidental or suspicious. The fire was just a few acres when Schicke’s Columbia-based crew responded. It burned for five days, consuming nearly 1,000 acres and threatening several campgrounds.
Hetch Hetchy power lines have been eliminated as the cause, Imlach said.
“Where the fire started was real remote. There’s no kind of industry in the area,” he said, and it’s unlikely rafters passing through on the Tuolumne River caused it. “The only real activity is people driving up and down the road.”