A member of California’s wildfire task force was killed after his bulldozer lost traction and fell down a 220-foot drop, making him the first fatality of the Ferguson fire.
Braden Varney was dispatched to bulldoze a firebreak on a Mariposa County ridge on July 14, pushing his 42,000-pound machine into position in the early hours of the day.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, however, the dozer slipped several times, eventually losing traction and falling down the ravine.
In a matter of seconds, 36-year-old Varney was the first fatality in the county’s war against Mother Nature.
An investigation revealed that communications were spotty at best, which created a problem for Varney’s commanders. Unable to relay conditions (and be told to stand down due to safety concerns), Varney was ultimately left to make his own call- and died as a result.
In light of conditions and treacherous terrain, it took Cal Fire two days to recover his body.
“Due to the complexity of the bulldozer rolling down a hill, they have to bring in extrication equipment to remove portions of the bulldozer to get Braden free,” Cal Fire spokesman Jeremy Rahn said. “He was a top-notch dozer operator.”
Shortly after Varney was killed, three other firefighters lost their lives.
“It’s just a real tragedy for the whole fire service because it’s such a family,” said DeeDee Garcia, a spokeswoman for the Cal Fire Local 2881 union. “To have four already this year is rare. It’s something we don’t want.”
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