Agencies and families make plans to honor crash victims

Agencies and families make plans to honor crash victims

9 August 2008

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USA — As news of the helicopter crash that killed seven Southern Oregon firefighters spread around the world, local government, nonprofit agencies and the families of victims began taking steps to honor the fallen men.

Scott Charlson, 25, of Phoenix; Edrik Gomez, 19, of Ashland; David Steele, 19, of Ashland; Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford; Shawn Blazer, 30, of Medford; Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass; and Steven Renno, 21, of Cave Junction, were killed when the Sikorsky S-61 helicopter transporting them crashed in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest Tuesday evening. Also killed were pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 55, of Lostine, and Forest Service aviation inspector Jim Ramage, 64, from the Redding area. Four aboard the helicopter survived.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski ordered Friday that flags fly at half staff from sunrise Monday to sunset Friday in memory of the firefighters. A fund to provide aid to the families of the victims has been established by the Wildland Firefighters Foundation, based in Boise, Idaho.

The first in a series of memorials for the men will honor Charlson at 11 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church in Eugene. Those who knew Southern Oregon University students Charlson, Gomez and Steele also are invited to attend a support meeting at 2 p.m. Monday in the Computer Resource Center in Stevenson Union.

The seven men killed were employed by Grayback Forestry, Inc. President Mike Wheelock said in a statement Friday that memorials would be held at Grayback, though no specific date has been set.

It will take about two or three weeks for the company to organize a memorial, said Kelli Matthews, a spokeswoman for Grayback.

In the meantime, the training room at the back of the wildfire contractor’s facility in White City has been converted to a memorial, with pictures of the fallen men and cards for their families coming soon, Matthews said. Employees of Grayback will have chaplains and grief management teams available to them to help cope, said Wheelock, who stressed that firefighters become like family after working and living together.

“Some are angry, some break down, and some are numb,” he said. “I tell them to talk to their brothers. They’re in a war out there, and they come together.”

Wheelock announced the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which was founded after the 1994 Storm King Mountain fire where 14 firefighters died, will accept donations for the families. Board member Jim Felix said the nonprofit provides financial support, counseling services and networking opportunities to families of victims. To make a donation, visit

Vicki Minor, executive director of the foundation, was at the burn center at UC Davis Medical Center visiting the men injured in the fire, and will be in Medford to meet with the families.

“She is doing initial work with the families and will determine what their immediate needs are,” Felix said.

Donations to the foundation will be divided between all the families, Felix said.

“We will make sure that the families are taken care of equally and to the best of our ability,” he said.

The names of the firefighters who died will be added to plaque near a monument at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, which honors all the firefighters who have died while on duty.

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