Utah officials are praising a Draper firefighter who was killed while battling California's biggest wildfire, the first fatality of the massive Mendocino Complex Fire.
Draper Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett, 42, was killed on Monday night while on the front lines of the fire, according to Draper city officials. No other details were released.
"This is not only a loss for our Draper Fire Department, but a loss for all fire departments in the nation," said Draper officials on Tuesday.
Burchett had worked for the Draper Fire Department since May of this year after two decades with Salt Lake and Utah County's Unified Fire Authority.
He was one of five Draper firefighters who had traveled to California on Aug. 2 to help battle deadly wildfires in the state. The 42-year-old firefighter is survived by a wife and young son.
"He was an outstanding man, a very, very qualified firefighter, specifically in wildland firefighting," said Draper Mayor Troy Walker at a press conference. "Just a tremendous person."
The Mendocino Complex Fires, which is actually two separate fires, have burned for nearly two weeks, destroying 150 homes and scorching close to 550 square miles, or 350,000 acres, of brush and forest. Several dozen Utah firefighters have traveled to the state this month to help battle the fires north of San Francisco.
Walker said Draper's firefighters are part of a joint task force known as the Emergency Management Assistance Compact that enables states to share resources during natural disasters.
"It's neighbor helping neighbor," said Walker. "There's going to come a day when we need CalFire and other people to help us, so that's why we do it."
Walker said the four remaining members of the Draper crew have stayed with Burchett’s body as part of an honor guard and will return to Utah soon.
Gov. Gary Herbert joined other Utah officials on Tuesday in sending condolences to Burchett's family.
"He gave everything to defend the lives of others. By so doing, he exemplified the greatest love and bravery of which humans are capable," said Herbert in a statement. "We mourn for his dear wife and son."
Officials said more details about funeral plans and a donation fund for Burchett's family will be released in the coming days. Gov. Herbert will order the lowering of flags on the day of Burchett's funeral.
Our hearts are breaking as we announce the loss of one of Draper City's firefighters in the Mendocino Fire last night. Words cannot explain how it feels to lose a true hero. We sent five of our team members to California to battle these terrible fires. A very sad day in Draper. pic.twitter.com/xwblMVzzJt
— Draper City (@drapercity) August 14, 2018