PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The death of a 19-year-old water truck driver outside a rural Oregon wildfire came just months after he joined a community college firefighter training program and readied for his first fire season.
Jesse Trader had a baseball scholarship to Western Oregon University but chose to enroll at Chemeketa Community College for its fire protection program instead, his mother said Tuesday.
“This is what Jesse wanted to do with his life,” said Gigi Trader, of Albany.
Jesse Trader was killed when his water truck overturned on a rural road’s embankment early Tuesday morning outside the Big Windy complex of fires in southwest Oregon. Trader was taken from the scene by an air ambulance, but emergency responders were unable to revive him.
He was the sole occupant of the truck.
Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a prepared statement that Oregon owes Trader a debt.
“Even at such a young age, he was already contributing mightily to his community,” Kitzhaber said, “and we owe him our gratitude for his commitment to helping protect his fellow citizens.”
Trader’s mother said his faith, and hers, helped her cope with the reality of his death just hours after getting a call from law enforcement.
“He was always willing to share his faith with others, he never got in any trouble,” Gigi Trader said. “He was somebody who was going to be very successful.”
Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson said it was unclear from the crash site why the truck left the road and overturned. “He was coming down the hill,” Gilbertson said. “(The truck) was heading down to get a relief driver.”
Trader was the second crew member killed this wildfire season in Oregon, and the 29th nationally.
On Aug. 1, 58-year-old John Hammack was killed in Central Oregon when the tree he was cutting fell on him.
The southwestern fires were ignited by lightning late last month. They are burning in some of the state’s most difficult mountain terrain, fed by vegetation parched by a widespread drought.
The Big Windy’s three fires are burning northwest of Grants Pass. More than 1,100 personnel were assigned to it as of Tuesday morning, and the fire area is estimated at more than 14 square miles, or more than 9,100 acres.
Fire officials hope to have containment lines around it next month but some say it could grow much larger and burn until fall rains and snow put it out.
“We’re going to live with these fires until October 15th or later,” Dan Thorpe, forester in charge of the state Department of Forestry’s southwest district who has seen 41 fire seasons, said in an interview published Tuesday in the Medford Mail Tribune (http://bit.ly/12Y3I1Q ).
The fire is in the Siskiyous, a range that’s part of the Klamath Mountains straddling southwest Oregon and Northern California.
There are six major wildfires in Oregon as of Tuesday. One of the southwestern fires, named Brimstone, is now considered 100 percent contained. The rest of the southwestern fires are burning on nearly 60,000 acres, or more than 93 square miles, and have drawn more than 5,600 people to fight them.
The sixth fire, in Central Oregon, has about 450 people working on the fire and is burning on about 500 acres.
Associated Press writer Tim Fought contributed to this report.