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MailTribune.com
  • Requiem for a Firefighter

    Scott Charlson, one of nine men killed in a helicopter crash last week, is remembered by his family as having had a bright future
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    • Other crash victims
      In addition to Scott Charlson, those killed in the helicopter crash included:

      Shawn Blazer, 30, of Medford, grew up in Southern Oregon, loved to hunt and fish, and had found his calling figh...
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      Other crash victims
      In addition to Scott Charlson, those killed in the helicopter crash included:

      Shawn Blazer, 30, of Medford, grew up in Southern Oregon, loved to hunt and fish, and had found his calling fighting wildfires, his aunt, Carole Holman, told The Oregonian newspaper. "He just couldn't wait to get back in the action," she said.

      • Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass, had just gotten married in June after graduating from Corban College in Salem with majors in psychology and business and was in his fourth season fighting fires, his family told the Grants Pass Daily Courier. "It just puts a hole in my heart," Richard Hammer said of the death of his son. "It was too short," his wife, Monica, said, breaking into tears. "He was in a hurry."
      • Edrik Gomez, 19, grew up in Coquille, where he was an altar boy, was interested in the outdoors, and had excelled in geology at Coquille High School, teachers told The World newspaper in Coos Bay. He was a student at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he was active in multicultural activities.
      • Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford, grew up in Grants Pass and had worked in construction, but took a job as a firefighter when home construction slumped, his childhood friend, Gabriel Chesley, of Grants Pass, told The Mail Tribune newspaper in Medford. Rich loved the outdoors, especially motorcycles and four-wheeling.
      • David Steele, 19, grew up in Ashland and was working as a firefighter to make money to attend Central Oregon Community College in Bend with hopes of becoming an emergency medical technician or firefighter, his father, Paul Steele, told the Medford Mail Tribune. "He knew the risks," the father said. Steele also played football at Ashland High School and loved rugby.
      • Steven "Caleb" Renno, 21, of Cave Junction, was a runner during his four years at Illinois Valley High School. Renno, who went by Caleb, attended Southern Oregon University in Ashland from fall 2005 through winter 2007. "He had a lot of natural ability, and he was fast," Janie Pope, office manager at Illinois Valley High School told The Oregonian. "But he also worked very hard to achieve those goals that he set for himself."
      • Carson Helicopters pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine in northeast Oregon. The father of three, he grew up in Klamath Falls, learned to fly helicopters in the Army, and loved to ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles, his wife, Christine, told The Oregonian.
      • James N. Ramage, 63, of Redding, spent more than four decades inside helicopters, starting in 1966 when he flew for the U.S. Army, according to The Oregonian. Upon his return stateside, he worked for aviation companies in Northern California, often contracting out to the forest service. He joined CAL Fire in 1984 as its first forestry pilot. He retired from CAL Fire in 2003, having moved up to aviation safety officer. Unable to stay away from flying, he took the inspector position with the U.S. Forest Service days later. Ramage is survived by his wife of 38 years, Diane, and their 28-year-old daughter, Ginger.
  • After his first two weeks on the job as a wildland firefighter, Scott Charlson's feet were covered with blisters and he was about ready to look for another way to pay for his last term in college.
    "Then he just grew up and decided, `I can do this. Other people can do this. I'm not a quitter,' " his father, Rick Charlson, said Friday, his voice swelled by pride and heartbreak. "So he stuck it out. I think now, towards the end, it's just what you do. He was very responsible."
    Scott Charlson, 25, was one of nine people killed Tuesday when a helicopter crashed shortly after taking off with a load of firefighters heading back to camp in Northern California.
    Seven of the dead, including Charlson, and three of the injured were firefighters with Grayback Forestry Inc., The crew was fighting a forest fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest outside Redding, Calif.
    In addition to Charlson, those killed were Edrik Gomez, 19, of Ashland; David Steele, 19, of Ashland; Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford; Shawn Blazer, 30, of Medford; Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass; Steven "Caleb" Renno, 21, of Cave Junction; pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 55, of Lostine; and Forest Service aviation inspector Jim Ramage, 63, from the Redding area. Four aboard the helicopter survived.
    Scott Charlson had talked to his parents in Eugene the morning he climbed into a helicopter and flew out for what proved to be four days of hard work defending a fire line in the wilderness.
    "We talked every night," said Rick Charlson, a salesman for a fertilizer and irrigation store. "The morning he left he called at 7:05 or so in the morning. He said what was going to happen. He was excited. He'd never been in a helicopter before. So he was really looking forward to that.
    "We said all our 'I love yous' — that was the end of every conversation."
    "He enjoyed being in the woods, looking at stuff that was growing, wildlife, panoramas," the father said. "He didn't talk very much about things like that. He was really very private."
    Born in Portland, Scott Charlson played youth hockey growing up. When he was 15 the family moved to Eugene, where he graduated from Lifegate Christian School in a class of eight. There he befriended Tim Murphy, a new kid in town from California, and they became best friends, playing sports, talking about life, politics and sports.
    "He was always the kind of guy who could make you laugh, even if something real serious was happening," Murphy said. "He had a knowledge for sports. He really could have done something with it. He would predict that somebody would get traded or this was going to happen, who was going to be drafted first, he would always know."
    After working two years in a steel mill, Scott decided to go to Southern Oregon University in Ashland to major in sports journalism.
    "That always amazed me," Rick Charlson said. "I never knew him to read a book in the 25 years I've known him, and here he is a journalism major. He loved sports so much. He knew who was on every team, what trades were going. I think he would have made a great sports analyst. His goal was to write for ESPN or Sports Illustrated or something like that."
    While attending SOU, Scott Charlson often wrote sports stories for the Ashland Daily Tidings and also contributed stories to the sports section of the Mail Tribune.
    At Southern Oregon, Charlson played lacrosse, and had been planning to graduate last spring until he found out he needed one more class. A coach told him about jobs at Grayback, where he could make good money, his father said.
    Rick Charlson said knowing that his son might still be alive if he had graduated last spring, as planned, is breaking his heart.
    "So he worked in forestry because he could earn the most amount of money in one summer to pay for that," Rick Charlson said. "He had to borrow all the money for his own schooling. We couldn't help him with anything.
    "I can't say enough good things about him. He was what every parent wants in a kid. He never talked back to us. He never yelled at us. You had disagreements growing up. You want to train your kids right. He was always responsible. He was a great man."
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