COLUMBIA – A member of an elite helicopter wildland firefighting crew has become the first female firefighter from the California Department of Forestry to die in the line of duty, state officials said Monday.
Eva Schicke, 24, of Arnold, was killed Sunday after she and six other firefighters were dropped into rugged terrain just outside Yosemite National Park and overrun by the flames. Her body was recovered Monday morning. Her six crew members were released after being treated for injuries they suffered while trying to cut off the fire’s advance through the Tuolumne River Canyon. In a news conference Monday in Sacramento, state officials identified the victim but could give few other details about what happened. “This is a very difficult day for our department,” said Jim Wright, chief of fire protection at the CDF. “It is just a reminder of the danger our firefighters face on a daily basis.” The 800-acre forest fire continued to burn Monday as federal investigators probed its causes. Officials said the air crew was dispatched into the Stanislaus National Forest around 2 p.m. Sunday in support of the U.S. Forest Service, which was already trying to contain what was considered a comparatively small fire. Wright said the crew appeared to be on the ground about an hour. Their job was to use hand tools to build a fire break ahead of the oncoming blaze. Although investigators said they do not know what happened Sunday, CDF spokeswoman Phyllis Banducci said the accident site is in a steep canyon area and firefighters recorded a change in the wind about the time of the incident. She said investigators may have a preliminary report within 48 hours. The six injured firefighters were all treated and released. Officials said they do not have a cause of death for Schicke. Although only 24, Schicke was a member of the department’s helicopter team — considered among the best firefighters in the system, Wright said. She had spent four and a half seasons working as a part-time firefighter. She was a student at California State University, Stanislaus, where she played basketball. She was single, Wright said. “She was average size but tough as nails,” said CDF Battalion Chief Jeff Millar, who hired Schicke nearly five years ago.