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Fire victim did some training at SCV's Camp 9

Posted: July 1, 2013 8:02 p.m.
Updated: July 1, 2013 8:02 p.m.

This undated photo courtesy of the the Woyjeck family shows firefighter, Kevin Woyjeck, right, and his father, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Joe Woyjeck. Kevin Woyjeck of Seal Beach was one of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew, who was killed Sunday evening above the town of Yarnell, northwest of Phoenix in the nation's biggest loss ...

 

For 21-year-old Kevin Woyjeck, the fire station was always a second home. With a father who was a veteran firefighter, Woyjeck set his eyes on the same profession and did some of his training at Camp 9 in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Woyjeck and 18 other firefighters, including three others from California, were members of the Arizona Hotshot crew that was wiped out in seconds when they were trapped in the face of an uncontrolled wildfire near the town of Yarnell, Arizona, on Sunday.

Keith Mora, an inspector with L.A. County fire, said Kevin often accompanied his dad to the station and on ride-alongs, and always intended to follow in his footsteps.

“He wanted to become a firefighter like his dad and hopefully work hand-in-hand,” Mora said Monday outside the Seal Beach home where Kevin Woyjeck’s family lives.

“Kevin was a former member of Explorer Post 9,” said Capt. Pat Sprengel at county fire’s Camp 9 on the ridge between the Santa Clarita and Santa Clarita Valleys.

“That program was a stepping stone to getting into the fire department,” Sprengel said. “It’s a volunteer group and provides training.”

The deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots based in Prescott, Ariz., marked the nation’s biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years. Only one member of the 20-person crew survived, and that was because he was moving the unit’s truck at the time.

Flags were ordered at half-staff in Arizona and also in Los Angeles County to honor Woyjeck and others.
Other California victims included 30-year old Chris MacKenzie from Hemet, Sean Misner, 26, from Santa Barbara County, and Billy Warneke, 25, also form Hemet.

It was unclear exactly how the firefighters became trapped.

With no way out, crew members did what they were trained to do: They unfurled their foil-lined, heat-resistant tarps and rushed to cover themselves.

But that last, desperate line of defense couldn’t save them.

The fire shelters are around 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, maybe a foot-and-half tall, said L.A. County Fire Inspector Tony Akins.

The fire shelters take roughly a minute or two to deploy on level ground in calm wind, Akins said. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough time.

He recalled a similar situation in 1993 when a wildfire overran firefighters above Altadena.

“The entire event took place in 72 seconds,” Akins said. “By the time they realized they were in trouble, it was probably over.”

Two firefighters were killed there, he said.

Akins said there’s nothing in world of technology or physics that can survive a 1,200-degree flaming front while also designed to be portable — to be carried by a hiking firefighter.

Despite their knowledge of the flimsiness of their protection, news of the deaths hit particularly hard Monday, Akins said.

“Any time you see any number it’s heartbreaking — but an entire crews is a kick in the gut,” he said. “You get sick to your stomach.”

jana@signalscv.com
661-287-5599

 

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