Friday, May 23, 2008

Esperanza Firefighter Honored

Part of Hwy. 243 honors Esperanza firefighters

Family members unveil a memorial sign near Highway 243 where firefighter victims of the Esperanza fire were honored. In the foreground are members of Engine Company 57 whose fellow workers were the victims. (Photograph for the Record Gazette by Cindy Watson)

The impact of the devastating Esperanza fire will last forever.

And the naming last week of a stretch of Highway 243 for five firefighters who perished in the 2006 fire will ensure they are never forgotten.

On May 9, officials and others, including families of the firefighters, gathered at the Silent Valley RV Club in Poppet Flats to rename a section of Highway 243, “Esperanza Firefighters Memorial Highway,” honoring the fallen heroes.

The mood of the dedication was captured by speaker Assemblyman John J. Benoit. “While the Esperanza Fire died out a year and a half ago, the memories and sacrifices of the five firefighters who perished that day will live forever,” Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes, told the crowd. “Dedicating this highway will remind motorists along the route of the crew of Engine Company 57. We shall always remember the courage of our firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect us.”

The firefighters killed as a result of the Oct. 26, 2006 arson fire, which swept over their location in Twin Pines, were: U.S. Forest Service Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, of Engine Company 57; Jason McKay, Jess McClean, Daniel Hoover-Najera and Pablo Cerda. They were trying to save a home when the fire swept over them.

Four of the five families attended the dedication and, near the conclusion, they gathered together and unveiled the new Esperanza Firefighter Memorial Highway sign that honors their sons, fathers and brothers.

Among officials in attendance was Fire Chief Mike Dietrich, whose heartfelt words touched the emotions of onlookers. “We made a promise to commit to the healing ... to commit to re-manning Engine Company 57.” He then introduced new members of Company 57 to the crowd.

Calling Oct. 26 a “tragic” day, Dietrich said, “We must continue the relentless pursuit against domestic terrorism.”

A Beaumont man has been charged with arson and murder in the fire.

The dedicated section of Highway 243 runs for 30 miles between Banning and Mountain Center, and has memorials at each end. American Legion Palm Springs Post 519 provided $3,700 for the memorials.

Some of the 40,200 acres of the fire have given way this spring to new life.

Blackened remains of chaparral have made way for an extraordinary display of wildflowers along Highway 243 in the fire area. New abundant life has bloomed in shades of white, purple, blue, red and yellow.

The fire began at the San Gorgonio Wash in Cabazon at about 1 a.m. By the time it had run its course the fire had destroyed 34 homes, melting vehicles into the landscape where many still remain. The fire ran up the mountain through Twin Pines and into the Poppet Flats area. The fire burned areas along the cities of Banning and Beaumont to Highway 79.

Source: Record Gazette News

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