USA — A Gila National Forest Service employee, John Kavchar, 62, was found dead in the burn area of the Signal Peak Fire Sunday morning. The New Mexico State Police have ruled his death an accident.
Kavchar, who worked for the Gila National Forest service as a lookout at Signal Peak for 15 years, apparently took his horse for a ride Saturday afternoon after he got off work. He never returned home.
According to New Mexico State Police Lt. Robert McDonald, Kavchar was reported as missing at approximately 10 a.m. Sunday when the Gila National Forest Service contacted State Police. Kavchar did not show up for work at 7 a.m. that morning, so the Forest Service called his home and reportedly learned from Kavchar’s girlfriend that he never came home Saturday night.
The Forest Service then called police. State police contacted New Mexico Search and Rescue to go out and look for him. But within a few hours, a Gila National Forest law enforcement officer found Kavchar’s body, along with the dead horse, and Search and Rescue workers were called off.
“It was very unexpected,” Kelly Russell, supervisor for the Gila National Forest office said. “He was well liked. Everybody is going to miss him.”
Russell said Kavchar was the first person to spot the smoke from the Signal Peak Fire, a human-caused fire that began on the afternoon of Mother’s Day on May 11. Russell said Kavchar had to be evacuated after the fire started, but within a few days, he returned to his post.
Forest Service lookouts sit in a high tower and keep an eye out for smoke and bad weather.
“They’re an eye in the sky, so to speak,” Russell said.
State police investigated Kavchar’s death but ruled it an accident. Kavchar’s horse had been on a steep slope in the Signal Peak burn area and terrain was reportedly rough and ashy, according to McDonald. McDonald also said that Kavchar’s girlfriend and the Forest Service both reported that Kavchar’s horse had hoof and leg problems. The state police believe the horse fell on Kavchar and both the animal and his rider died from the fall.
Russell said Kavchar’s late wife had been the Signal Peak lookout prior to Kavchar taking over that duty. Kavchar’s wife died about 10 years ago.
Russell also said no arrangements have been made yet for Kavchar’s funeral. The family is still trying to sort that out. The Forest Service doesn’t yet know if it will hold any type of ceremony to remember Kavchar.