1984 ~ 2018
Brian Hughes, a firefighter from Squaw Valley (Fresno County), was killed Sunday, July 29, 2018, by a falling tree while on duty at the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County. He was 33.
Brian was a native of Hilo, Hawaii. He was born August 1, 1984, and raised and educated in Hilo.
Brian had been a firefighter for 15 years, his entire adult life, trading the ocean for the mountain West. After working in several states with other Hotshots crews from Alaska to Colorado, he was recruited in March 2015 as a member of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots, based in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Parks.
Brian and his crew were working on the east side of the Ferguson Fire near the Yosemite National Park boundary when tragedy struck. They were on the offense, fighting fire with fire to diminish the blaze’s fuel in its persistent easterly advancement.
But the Sierra has been hard-hit by a multi-year drought, creating a toxic combination of environmental factors that caused a massive die-off of trees. It was one of these standing dead trees that toppled and struck Brian while on the fireline. Despite the valiant efforts of his fellow
crew members, he died on the scene.
A solemn procession, led by Arrowhead Hotshots fire apparatus, and accompanied by other firefighting and law-enforcement vehicles, carried Brian’s body from Mariposa County to the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office in Modesto on Sunday afternoon.
Brian is survived by his wife-to-be, Paige Miller, who is three months pregnant with the couple’s first child; his parents, Peter and Suen Hughes of Hilo, Hawaii; his sister, Meriel Hughes; and his National Park Service and firefighter families.
A memorial service for Brian is scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 4), at 11 a.m., in Valdez Hall at the Fresno Convention Center, 702 M Street in Fresno. For more information about Brian, where to send condolences, or the memorial service, a web page has been created on the Sequoia Parks Conservancy website: www.sequoiaparks conservancy.org/captainbrian hughes.html.
How to help
To assist Paige as she now faces raising her child alone, a GoFundMe account has been created. To make a donation, go to: www.gofundme.com/r94cjc-brian-hughes.
In addition, donations may also be made to assist Brian’s family through the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (https://wffoundation.org. These donations assist families and help cover memorial or funeral expenses.
History of Hotshots
In 1981, the Hotshots were organized by the National Park Service and are today considered the elite wildland fire suppression crews. The Arrowheads were one of the first of three Hotshot crews established and, 37 years later, continue to be based in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Today, the Arrowhead Hotshots are one of 110 Hotshot crews in the U.S. A crew consists of 20 to 22 members of which no more than four members can be first-year firefighters.
As captain, Brian was second in command of the Arrowhead Hotshots, assisting the superintendent, Joe Suarez, in all aspects of management.
In addition to fire training, field skills and, in Brian’s position, leadership courses, Hotshots participate in a daily fitness regimen and must pass rigorous aerobic and strength tests.
This highly skilled, experienced hand crew can mobilize within two hours when orders are received for fire operations and other natural disasters throughout the country. In October 2017, the Arrowhead Hotshots were in Puerto Rico to assist with Hurricane Maria recovery.
The Ferguson Fire started Friday, July 13, in Sierra National Forest, west of Yosemite National Park. Much of the fire is burning in steep, rugged terrain with little to no access roads. So far 11 firefighters have been injured; Captain Hughes is the second firefighter this fire has claimed.
Braden Varney, 36, a Cal Fire heavy-equipment operator, was killed July 14 when his bulldozer rolled off a ridge and down into a canyon.
As of Thursday, Aug. 2, the fire had consumed nearly 70,000 acres and was 39 percent contained. To date, no homes have been damaged or destroyed. Full containment is estimated to occur on or about August 15.
In total, 3,558 personnel are fighting this fire, including 203 engines, 43 water tenders, 14 helicopters, 95 crews, 5 masticators, and 62 dozers. Highway 41, the south entrance to Yosemite, is closed due to heavy smoke and ongoing firefighting operations in the area; Highway 140 is also closed.
Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Hetch Hetchy, and other areas of Yosemite National Park remained closed to the public this week. A Friday, Aug. 3, reopening of these popular areas was postponed to Sunday, Aug. 5.
Air quality has deteriorated to the unhealthy range at times throughout the past week in Three Rivers, mostly due to smoke from the Ferguson Fire. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued an Air Quality Alert starting July 25 for multiple counties due to smoke impacts. This air quality alert will remain in effect until the fires are extinguished.
Being a member of a Hotshot crew, or a firefighter in general, is an inherently dangerous line of work. But these women and men accept the risks and go to work everyday anyway.
In October 2004, Dan Holmes, 26, of the Arrowhead Hotshots was killed when he was struck by a burning snag that fell from a 100-foot-tall tree while working a prescribed fire in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park.
"While we grieve and remember our brother Brian, it’s good to know how many people out there are thinking about him and his family. There’s a huge amount of support pouring out of the community, and we feel that." (Joe Suarez, superintendent, Arrowhead Hotshots)
"Anne and I are deeply saddened to hear about Captain Hughes’s death and extend our condolences to his family, loved ones, and fellow firefighters, who are still out in the field protecting lives and property. We are incredibly grateful for Captain Hughes’s service to our state and nation.” (Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.)