The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department is handling the investigation of how a firefighter died last week while battling the El Dorado Fire, which continues to burn in the San Bernardino National Forest for the third week.
The firefighter was Charles Morton, 39, the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad boss, the San Bernardino National Forest said in a statement Monday night. He died while "engaged in fire suppression operations" late Thursday, the statement said.
“Charlie was a well-respected leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “Our hearts go out to Charlie’s loved ones, coworkers, friends and the Big Bear Hotshots. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”
Morton had been with the Forest Service for 14 years, joining the team in San Bernardino in 2007. He worked on both the Front Country and Mountaintop Ranger Districts, for the Mill Creek Interagency Hotshots, Engine 31, Engine 19, and the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots.
A hotshot crew is a group of 20 or so firefighters that respond to large wildland fires across the country and are assigned to work the most challenging parts of the fire.
According to the statement, Morton's family asked the department to share that he is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins, and friends. "He’s loved and will be missed,” the statement added.
There are no words to express how we feel about the loss of one of our own. Our hearts are breaking for our Forest Service brothers and sisters and for Charlie’s family. R.I.P. brother. https://t.co/ILFSI0ZU7X— SB County Fire (@SBCOUNTYFIRE) September 22, 2020
The investigation is at its inception and it's too early to say whether death-related charges could be recommended against a family suspected of igniting the fire with a pyrotechnic device during a Sept. 5 gender reveal gathering, sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller said.
As the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department handles the firefighter's death investigation, Cal Fire is investigating the cause of the El Dorado Fire.
Cal Fire Capt. Bennet Milloy on Monday reiterated it could take weeks for investigators to determine the exact cause of the fire, including whether the family would be held culpable for igniting the blaze.
"There is still a lot of work to be done," he said.
See what that looks like: Wildfires burned millions of acres across the West.
Findings from both investigations will ultimately be submitted to the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office.
As of 6:30 p.m. Monday, the El Dorado Fire had burned 22,588 acres and 60% of its perimeter was contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Four homes and six other structures have been destroyed. There are 1,190 firefighters and staff at the scene.
Follow Colin Atagi on Twitter: @tdscolinatagi.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Firefighter's death at California's El Dorado Fire under investigation