Firefighter died after being trapped in wind-fueled blaze

A hand crew member starts a backfire along Baldy Mesa Road late Friday, July 17, 2015, as the North Fire continues to burn near Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, Calif. Firefighters will focus Saturday on protecting some 700 homes in the Baldy Mesa area, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Carol Underhill said. About 2,800 people remained evacuated, with nearly three dozen spending the night at a temporary shelter. (AP Photo/Kevin Warn)

ALTURAS, Calif. (AP) — A firefighter killed by a wildfire in Northern California was scouting the area exploring for ways to attack it when he became trapped after erratic winds stoked the blaze, officials said Saturday.

U.S. Forest Service firefighter David Ruhl was driving down a Modoc National Forest road in a vehicle Thursday. The fire suddenly grew and trapped him, information officer Ken Sandusky said.

“He was trying to develop a plan of attack,” Sandusky said.

Firefighter David Ruhl who was killed Saturday fighting a large wildfire. (Photo courtesy NBC News)
Firefighter David Ruhl who was killed Saturday fighting a large wildfire. (Photo courtesy NBC News)

Ruhl, of Rapid City, South Dakota, had been on temporary assignment since June in California, where he was an assistant fire management officer for the Big Valley Ranger District of the Modoc National.

Scott Jacobson, a co-worker and spokesman for the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota, said Ruhl, 38, volunteered to work in California. He wanted to broaden his firefighting experience and improve his skills and was passionate about his job, Jacobson said.

“He was just always eager to get out and about and work with people,” he said.

The married father of two children was well-liked for his easygoing and humble manner, and for always being there for everyone, Jacobson said.

Ruhl was one of several firefighters exploring the area when the small fire suddenly expanded. An investigation is underway to determine exactly what happened, Sandusky said.

Crews fighting the blaze lost communication with Ruhl on Thursday evening. His body was recovered Friday.

By Saturday, the blaze about 100 miles south of the Oregon border, had burned 2.8 square miles and was 5 percent contained.

Erratic winds were challenging fire-containment efforts and moving the fire in all directions. Gusty winds were expected Saturday evening, when lightning storms are also forecast, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Ruhl grew up in Wisconsin, and previously worked for the U.S. Coast Guard and as a correctional officer. He joined the U.S. Forest Service in 2001 and had been with Black Hills National Forest since 2011, Jacobson said.

Ruhl was the engine captain for the Mystic Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest, where he supervised a crew that would be responsible for sizing up and suppressing new wildfires. He also oversaw crews as they contained prescribed burns intentionally set to control forest and prairie growth.

Comments are closed.