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Officials Praise Draper Battalion Chief Who Was Killed In California's Mendocino Fire

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. 

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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