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National ceremony will honor firefighters who died in 2008 crash

Seven wildland firefighters from Jackson and Josephine counties who died in a helicopter crash in 2008 will be honored Sunday by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

They are among 103 firefighters — 98 men and five women — from 36 states who died in the line of duty in 2008. They will all be remembered in the 28th annual memorial service at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, a town of about 2,500 some 60 miles north of Washington, D.C.

As many as 6,000 people are expected to attend the memorial. The keynote speaker will be House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., according to a spokeswoman for the nonprofit foundation.

Family members representing all of the local fallen firefighters are expected to attend the memorial, which is held every year in October, according to the foundation.

The local fallen firefighters include Shawn Blazer, 30, and Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford; Scott Charlson, 25, Edrik Gomez, 19, and David Steele, 19, all of Ashland; Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass; and Steven Renno, 21, of Cave Junction.

Veteran pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine, and U.S. Forest Service aviation inspector Jim Ramage, 63, of Redding, Calif., who both died in the crash, will also be honored Sunday.

The firefighters, who worked for Grayback Forestry Inc., died when a Sikorsky-61 crashed and burned Aug. 5, 2008 on the Iron 44 Complex fire in the Trinity Alps Wilderness near Weaverville, Calif. The firefighters were all part of a crew from Grayback's White City base.

The helicopter was operated by Merlin-based Carson Helicopter Inc. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

For more information on the foundation, its programs and Sunday's ceremony, visit the Web site at www.FireHero.org.

— Paul Fattig