U.S. Forest Service firefighters Karen L. FitzPatrick, 18, and Jessica L. Johnson, 19, were killed along with their crew members Devin A. Weaver and Tom L. Craven, the squad's leader, on July 10, 2001, when a wildfire in a narrow canyon in northern Washington overran their position. All four were members of a fire crew from the Naches Ranger District on the Okanogan National Forest.
The Thirty Mile fire trapped a total of 21 firefighters and two civilian hikers along the Chewuch River north of Winthrop, on the eastern slope of the North Cascades. A sudden rise in temperatures and winds apparently changed what had been a small, smoldering ground fire into a raging -- and rapidly spreading -- crown fire. All personnel deployed their shelters in the blowup, one of the firefighters sharing her shelter with the hikers.
Johnson, who was 19, was in her second year as a seasonal firefighter for the Forest Service, and was a student at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. Her former swim coach told the Seattle Times, "She was wild and outgoing... But then she started firefighting... She found herself, she found confidence, and it made her feel good." West Valley Fire Chief Dave Leitch said, "She was physically strong: she could spin circles around the guys." Johson is survived by her mother, Jodie Gray, and her boyfriend, Nathan Craig, who is also a firefighter.
FitzPatrick, 18, had just graduated from West Valley High School in Yakima, where she was a 4.0 student. She completed firefighter training last month, and planned to take firefighting classes at a local community college this fall. She is survived by her parents, John and Kathie FitzPatrick, and a sister, Jaina.
More than 600 firefighters were being sent to the fire as of Wednesday, and were expected to be deployed on Thursday, once the situation and conditions could be reassessed. The deaths of the four firefighters -- the most in a single wildfire incident since the South Canyon fire in 1994 -- were investigated by a national team.
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