A day after a Cal Fire engineer died fighting the Thomas Fire, details of what led to his death remain unclear on Friday, and condolences and donations were being offered to his family in Escondido.
Cory Iverson, 32, was an engineer with Cal Fire’s San Diego Unit. He died working with his strike team on the eastern flank of the nearly 400-square-mile blaze burning in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
After Iverson's death, all of the 17 members of the strike team were pulled from the Thomas Fire, which they'd been battling since Dec. 5, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
"This incident has shaken our organization to the core,” Cal Fire San Diego Chief Tony Meacham said, the newspaper reported. “It has affected it statewide, but no more than here in San Diego County.”
An accident review team will be looking at the situation that led to the fatality, which occurred in the Fillmore area Thursday morning.
Iverson had a passion for firefighting, Cal Fire spokesman Jon Heggie told the newspaper. He was “the kind of firefighter you could rely on. He was the best fireman you could hope to have on your team,” Heggie said.
Fire officials said Iverson leaves behind a toddler daughter and a wife pregnant with their second child. Iverson joined the state firefighting department in 2009.
Earlier this month, as wildfires raged across Southern California, Iverson’s wife Ashley posted on her Facebook page about her thankfulness for firefighters. She said when she was a child, someone set fire to her family’s property but the home was saved by some nearby firefighters. She developed a fear of fire, she wrote.
“Years went by and I suppressed my fear not knowing that I would marry a fire fighter,” Ashley Iverson wrote.
Seeing a series of Cal Fire engines drive by her on Dec. 10, she said she was “brought to tears with gratitude.”
A GoFundMe page for the family, set up by a friend and coworker of Ashley Iverson, has raised more than $93,000 as of midmorning Friday, about 14 hours after it was created.
“As people are asking how they can help, what we know is that they first need your prayers,” the page reads.
Money from the fund will go to help the family pay for funeral arrangements and help at home, the page states. Its goal is $150,000.
More than 8,300 fire personnel are working the Thomas Fire, which broke out near Santa Paula on Dec. 4. Fueled by unrelenting Santa Ana winds and extremely dry conditions, the fire has is still churning through mountainous terrain that hasn't seen rain in more than 250 days.
Nearly 1,000 structures have been destroyed by the fire. Iverson and a 70-year-old Santa Paula woman who was found in a car in the burn area are the fire's two fatalities.
The Thomas Fire is the fourth largest recorded in California history.