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Hundreds gather to honor fallen local firefighter

Matthew David Goodnature, the 21-year-old Phoenix firefighter who died July 29 while taking a break from working the Launch fire near Four Mile Lake, was remembered Saturday as an adventurous and fun-loving man who looked at his fellow firefighters as brothers.

More than 325 of Goodnature's friends and family, along with firefighters from his former employer, Pacific Oasis Inc., and fire departments from around Southern Oregon attended a celebration of life ceremony for him at the Rose Theater inside Phoenix High School.

The ceremony began with an honor guard and a presentation of the United States flag and a Wildland Firefighter Statue from the Wildland Firefighter Foundation to Dave and Judy Goodnature, Matthew Goodnature's parents.

"Growing up, Matt was very adventurous. He loved to have fun as much as he possibly could," said Jessica Goodnature Swartz, the fallen firefighter's older sister. "Once Matt started the wildland firefighting, you'd think I'd be more worried about him, but I was actually less worried. He found something that was dangerous and exciting enough to hold his attention, something that was meaningful to him, something he was good at and enabled him to have co-workers, which were more like brothers to him, who knew and respected him, who valued his work."

"If my brother did have to leave us, I am glad he went as a hero doing what he loved," she said.

Dave Goodnature, who didn't speak during the ceremony, said his son was a huge sports fan, rooting for the New York Yankees and New York Knicks, and loved to ski and snowboard.

Preliminary autopsy results show Matthew Goodnature fractured a vertebrae near where the neck meets the skull during an accidental fall while on break from fighting the human-caused Launch fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

One of Matthew Goodnature's crew members found him lying dead over a downed log about 50 yards from a forest road near fire camp at about 6:30 p.m., investigators said. He had been missing for about four hours, and it is unclear how he fell.

"All of these things make this tragic accident really difficult to understand. We don't know exactly what happened, we may never know, but the only thing we do know is that he is gone and we're going to miss him," said Steve Dodds, owner of Ashland-based Pacific Oasis. "He was a pleasure to be around. He was universally liked and he was our friend,"

Dave Goodnature said his son, who was taking part in his second season as a wildland firefighter, had been certified to run a chainsaw this year and had been promoted to crew boss.

"He was a good firefighter. ... He was growing as a man, he was growing as a firefighter. People have told me that Pacific Oasis was good for Matthew ... Matthew was good for Pacific Oasis," Dodds said.

A memorial fund for Matthew Goodnature's family has been established by Pacific Oasis at the Wells Fargo bank in Ashland. Donations can be made through any Wells Fargo branch across the nation.

The family expressed plans to donate all of the proceeds from the memorial fund to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, an Idaho-based nonprofit that provides assistance to the families of fallen and injured firefighters.

Jessica Goodnature Swartz closed her speech with a quote by Susan Diane Murphree. "Firemen never die, they just burn forever in the hearts of the people whose lives they saved."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

A Wildland Firefighter Statue is presented Saturday to the family of Matthew David Goodnature during a celebration of life service at Phoenix High School. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch