The tragedy of the 137,000-acre Hayman fire still burning in Colorado hit very close to home last week.
Retha Shirley, 19, La Grande, one of the contract fire fighters who died in a traffic accident near Parachute, Colorado while riding in a van convoy from La Grande to the fire, lived in Joseph until 1994 and still has many relatives in the county. The daughter of Larry and Linda Lewis Shirley, she was the niece of Mike and Rhonda Shirley of Joseph and the granddaugher of Peggy Lewis of Enterprise.
A funeral for the young woman is being planned at the Enterprise Elks Lodge on Saturday, June 22, but the time of the service had not been finalized as of press time.
Retha Shirley was a pre-nursing student at Oregon Institute of Technology, and working for her second season as a firefighter.
Her cousin Tara Shirley of Joseph, also 19, is a U.S. Forest Service firefighter and was dispatched this week to the Million Fire west of Durango, Colo.
"She was given the option not to go, but she wanted to go," said Eagle Cap/Hells Canyon NRA ranger Kendell Clark of Tara Shirley Monday.
Clark said that many employees of the local U.S. Forest Service office had known Retha Shirley, some since she was a little girl, and the convoy tragedy had affected everyone. She said are about 80 fire fighters stationed in Wallowa County this summer, and many of them knew the Grayback Forestry Inc. fire fighters involved in the accident. "We carry them all in our hearts," Clark said.
Grayback Forestry had been dispatched to Colorado by the U.S. Forest, under an interagency agreement with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
A moment of distraction only about 120 miles from the fire by the driver of the van caused it to go out of control and roll several times. Shirley was among 11 in the van and four young people to die at the scene; another two crew members sustained critical injuries. One of these, Bartholomew Bailey, 20, Corvallis died in a Colorado hospital this week.
Wild fires in Arizona, Colorado,and New Mexico continued to burn out of control this week, and numerous firefighters have been dispatched by the USFS from here.
Following is a list of fire crews and where they were dispatched to as of Monday this week:
- Lick Creek engine, dispatched to Cannon Fire, Nev., Adam Veale, Jeff Sines and Brittni Padberg.
- Billy Meadows engine, to Lincoln National Forest, N.M., initial attack, Jeff Lucas, Shannon Emel and Paul Ohmstead.
-Type 2 Crew, assigned to Heyman Fire but routed to Million Fire west of Durango, Colo., Mike Ribick, Brian German, Jason Lyman, Tara Shirley, Chelsea Wiles, Cory Kissinger, Justin Fitzpatrick, Matt Wagner; from Baker office, Trevor Lewis, Dennis Mawhinney, Bill Schliach, Rob Yencopal, Eric Martin and Nathan Skalsky; from La Grande office, Jerry Garrett, Sandra Isbell, Steve Brown, Tanya Burk, Kip Turner and Joshia Hasse.
Also dispatched to fires were Joe Zinni, IC Type 3, Alaska; Jeff Jenkins, dozer boss, Arizona; and Amy Willett, dispatched with La Grande Hotshots to the Heyman fire..
Kendall Clark report that Wallowa County appears almost to be an oasis in a sea of drought. "It almost starts at the county line," she said. However, because of "hundreds of lightning strikes" that accompanied a thunderstorm - and a downpour - Sunday, local fire lookouts, such as Hat Point and Harl Butte, were being staffed for the season this week.
"We've been lucky so far, but everyone who lives here knows that it will get hot and it will dry out."