USA–– MOSCOW, Idaho Anne Veseth was a 5-foot-11 blond beauty who liked to dress up and go out with friends. She also was a trained auto mechanic and a forest firefighter.
Today, a huge crowd is expected for the funeral of the young woman who died last weekend when a tree fell on her while she was fighting a blaze in Idaho.
“Her cards were up,” said mother Claire Veseth, 55, a nurse in this college town. “It was an act of God.”
Fire officials are investigating the death. Veseth, 20, died as she and other members of her 20-person crew were trying to extinguish the 43-acre Steep Corner fire near Orofino. They were establishing and reinforcing a fire line on one perimeter of the blaze, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Phil Sammon said.
At least two federal investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration are on the scene in Orofino, looking into Sunday’s death. An investigation could take up to six months.
Between 2002 and 2011, only two of 58 U.S. Forest Service firefighter fatalities came from hazardous trees like the one that killed Veseth. As of July 31, eight firefighters have died this year in wildland fire incidents, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Veseth was a Type 2 firefighter, one of the agency’s thousands of seasonal employees dispatched to the nation’s forests during the spring and summer fire seasons. The Forest Service said Veseth had completed the safety courses required of every person in her crew.
Her mother and three surviving siblings Rachel, 26; Brian, 24; and Julia, 22 gathered at the family home Thursday. Father Roger died in 2003.
Brian Veseth has been a forest firefighter for seven years, and he was approached by his sister in 2010 about getting a job. This was Anne’s second year fighting wildfires, and she was assigned to a base camp near Orofino. Brian described his sister as a “bombshell” who easily made friends with boys.
Rachel Veseth described her sister’s clothing style, which often ran to blue basketball shorts, a wife beater T-shirt and cowboy boots.
But ‘she loved to dress up, put on makeup and do her hair,” Rachel said. “She wore heels despite being 5-11.”
The children grew up just outside this college town. Anne Veseth graduated from Moscow High School with a 3.92 grade point average, and recently completed a two-year degree in auto technology at nearby Lewis-Clark State College, despite having previously expressed little interest in auto repair. She worked sometimes at an auto store in town.
But her family said she wasn’t sure about becoming a mechanic. Like many 20-year-olds, Anne was still trying to decide what to do. Her family said she was so interested in firefighting that she had enrolled at the University of Idaho here with a goal of studying forestry or fire ecology, which is the study of how fire impacts wildlands.
“She loved it, and went back this year,” her brother said of firefighting. Anne this year had already been sent to fires in Colorado and Arizona, he said.
With Brian already a firefighter and Rachel previously working as a river guide on some of Idaho’s whitewater streams, Claire Veseth was used to her children having risky jobs.
“My children never chose sedate office jobs,” Claire said. “But I never held them back, either.”
She was home alone last Sunday when she got a telephone call from Brian, who she said sounded as if he was gasping. Brian had been given the bad news by his supervisor.
“When he asked if I was sitting down, I knew it was probably Anne,” Claire said, wiping away tears. “I felt like my heart kind of ripped apart.”