S. Ore. service honors 9 killed in copter crash | SummitDaily.com

S. Ore. service honors 9 killed in copter crash

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. ” Under a hot sun pouring down through skies hazy with smoke from the forests, a chrome fire bell tolled out the signal 5-5-5 on Friday to honor nine men killed in a helicopter crash in Northern California.

Seven firefighters for Grayback Forestry, a pilot for Carson Helicopters and a U.S. Forest Service inspection pilot died Aug. 5 when their helicopter crashed on takeoff. It was ferrying the crew members from the fire lines in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

More than 3,000 family members, friends and fellow firefighters from around the region turned out at the Jackson County fairgrounds in Central Point to pay tribute to them. Among them were Gov. Ted Kulongoski and U.S. Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell. The 5-5-5 signal is one firefighters use to say that one or more of their own will not return to the station.

“To the families, I am so sorry we did not bring your loved ones home,” Grayback Forestry President Mike Wheelock said, his voice filled with emotion. “To the public, keep these firefighters in your prayers. The fire season has a way to go. Even as we are sitting here today, there are battles raging in the forest.”

Surviving members of the Grayback crew in gray T-shirts and green firefighting pants presented the families of the fallen with folded American flags, chromed Pulaskis ” a combination ax and hoe that is the basic tool of wildland firefighters ” and shining helmets ” red hardhats for the firefighters and white flight helmets for the pilots.

Before the presentations an honor guard unfolded the flags, held them out for display and then folded them back up. As bagpipes and drums played “Amazing Grace,” an air tanker and spotter plane used to fight wildfires roared overhead.

Catherine LaRue said her son, Caleb Renno of Cave Junction, felt beaten up from fighting an earlier fire, and almost decided to attend a family reunion rather than go back to work, but ultimately decided to rejoin his crew.

“I know in my heart all his friends who died with him were living their prayer,” she said through her grief. “We don’t want to remember our sons there,” in the wreckage of the crash, “but for the way they had lived. They were pretty jazzed and happy because they held the lines. And they loved helicopter rides.”

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