A San Diego County firefighter was killed battling the massive Thomas Fire Thursday, leaving behind a two-year-old and his five-months pregnant wife.
Cal Fire Engineer Cory Iverson, 32, of Escondido was part of a strike team made up of five engines with Cal Fire San Diego that were in an active area of the Thomas Fire in Fillmore, California when an accident occurred at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
Iverson was killed in the accident. The circumstances surrounding the incident were not made clear.
He leaves behind his wife, Ashley and their two-year-old daughter. The couple was expecting their second child in May.
Cal Fire Capt. Jon Heggie knew Iverson personally and described him as a man of character.
"To put it bluntly he’s the kind of man you want your daughter to marry and the type of fireman you want your son to grow up to be,” Heggie said.
An online fundraising page was created to assist the family with funeral costs and other expenses they may have.
Iverson spent much of his life fighting fires; he was an eight-year veteran of Cal Fire and before that, he spent seven years as a firefighter with the Harmony Grove Fire Department.
Heggie said it was a devastating loss for their department.
"We as a department are heartbroken," Heggie told NBC 7. "There is no easy way to say it — we have lost one of our brothers today."
Iverson's remains were taken in a procession to the coroner's office. Along the way, firefighters stood in salute on a freeway overpass and on top of fire department vehicles lining the side of a street.
“This incident has shaken our organization to the core," Heggie said. "It has affected us statewide, but no more than here in San Diego County.”
Heggie said it was up to his fire community to ensure Iverson's memory is not forgotten.
"Now to know his children aren’t going to have an opportunity to know what a wonderful person —so that’s our job as fire service family — to make sure they know the amazing man he was," Heggie said.
California Governor Jerry Brown ordered Capitol flags be flown at half-staff in honor of Iverson.
"Anne and I are saddened by Engineer Cory Iverson’s tragic death," Brown said in a statement. "His bravery and years of committed service to the people of California will never be forgotten.”
The death is the second attributed to the fire, which as of Thursday morning had surpassed the 2007 Zaca fire to become the state's fourth-largest wildfire on record.
The blaze first broke out as a brush fire on Monday, Dec. 4, and quickly grew larger and more destructive, destroying 930 structures and damaging another 193, according to Cal Fire. By Wednesday, containment was at 30 percent.
The October 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County is the state's largest wildfire on record. The inferno burned more than 273,000 acres and 2,800 buildings. Fifteen fatalities were reported.
Active Santa Ana winds continued to fuel the out-of-control brush fire, which prompted mandatory evacuations for hundreds of thousands of people in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
High fire risk is expected to last into January, adding to fears that 2017's deadly and destructive wildfire danger will extend into early next year.