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Firefighters’ sacrifice honored as Thomas fire victim returns home

Waving American flags and holding their hands to their hearts, thousands of people came from throughout California on Sunday, Dec. 17, to observe the funeral procession taking firefighter Cory Iverson home to San Diego just days before Christmas.

The 32-year-old firefighter died Thursday after he was injured while battling the massive Thomas fire.

The procession started at 10 a.m. Sunday at the medical examiner’s office in Ventura and ended just after 3:30 p.m. at a memorial park in San Diego. Along the way, the 30-vehicle convoy traveled east and south through Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties along the 101, 210, 57, 71, 91 and 15 Freeways, including a brief stop in Chino.

In front of the Chino fire station, about 50 firefighters and another 50 civilians stood along Schaefer Avenue to pay their respects. They all fell silent as a black hearse carrying Iverson’s body arrived just before 1 p.m.

“We know what we sign up for, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when you lose someone,” said Prince Wilkerson, a captain with Cal Fire’s Shasta/Trinity division and a 22-year firefighting veteran.

Wilkerson stood with his hands folded alongside a few dozen other Cal Fire and Chino Valley firefighters lining the drive into Chino Station No. 61. They waited under a flag at half mast.

“I don’t think the public truly understands the kinds of sacrifices they make,” said Mary Elizabeth Powell, whose grandson was a firefighter with Cal Fire for three seasons.

The Chino resident said her grandson would send them pictures after weeks on the front lines of a Northern California wildfire, and he was unrecognizable.

“These guys work so hard and they give up so much, and then to lose one life like that,” Linda Takeuchi said as she fought back tears.

She recalled a time more than 50 years ago when firefighters stood on the roof of her Girl Scout camp hall and fought off a blaze that nearly swallowed them before the camp could evacuate.

“Unless you’ve been in one and have seen how fast they can go, you don’t understand.

“They saved us,” Takeuchi said.

Dozens of freeway overpasses along the almost 200-mile route were lined by local residents along with firefighters from across the region, participating in a tragic ritual of their profession.

“It’s never fun,” said Sean Haynes, a captain with the Huntington Beach Fire Department. He stood with his crew on the roof of their engine as Iverson’s procession passed by the Lincoln Avenue bridge over the 91 Freeway in Corona. “But it’s an honor to be out here for our brothers and sisters.”

The Thomas fire has burned 269,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 structures in its path. It was 40 percent contained Sunday, as erratic Santa Ana winds picked back up. More than 8,500 firefighters from across the Western U.S. were still battling the fire Sunday.

No firefighters had been injured until Iverson was fatally hurt Thursday while he was working in the hills above Fillmore.

Iverson died of burns and smoke inhalation, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office said Saturday. No further details on what caused his death were released, with authorities still investigating.

Iverson had been with Cal Fire since 2009 and worked at a station in Dulzura. Before working in San Diego, Iverson was assigned to a helicopter unit at Cal Fire’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in Riverside County.

He’s survived by his wife, Ashley Iverson, who’s expecting a baby in May, and a 2-year-old daughter.

A friend of Ashley Iverson’s set up a GoFundMe account to support the family. The crowdfunding account had raised more than $380,000 of a $500,000 goal as of Sunday afternoon.

Donations can also be made to the Iverson family through the Cal Fire San Diego Firefighters Benevolent Fund.

A memorial for Iverson is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 23 at The Rock Church in Point Loma.

As she stood with her teenage son, Christian, on the Lincoln Avenue bridge in Corona to watch Iverson’s funeral procession pass by, Chino Hills resident Jeri Wright was also thinking about the thousands of firefighters still on the front lines of the Thomas fire.

“They give up a lot and sacrifice time away from their families,” Wright, 48, said. “We hope this can all end soon so they can get home to enjoy the holiday with their families.”

Ashley Iverson addressed those firefighters during a briefing on the Thomas fire Sunday morning before the procession, according to Ventura County Fire officials. They said she encouraged them not to give up.

source: dailynews

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