Draper firefighter dies battling California wildfires

Local News
draper city fire dept. battalion chief matt burchett

MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. (News4Utah) – The largest fire in California history turned deadly on Monday as a Draper City firefighter tending the blaze was killed.

Draper City officials have identified the firefighter as 42-year-old Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett.

There were few details on how he died in the Mendocino Complex Fire, northeast of Ukiah, California. The fire is burning near the Mendocino National Forest, about 140 miles northwest of Sacramento.

Chief Burchett started working with the Draper City Fire Dept. in May of this year.  Draper Mayor Troy Walker said prior to that he worked with Unified Fire Authority for the past 20 years.

He leaves behind a wife and a young son.

“This is not only a loss for our Draper Fire Dept., but a loss for all fire departments in the Nation,” Mayor Walker said.

Twelve days ago, Draper fire dispatched five firefighters including Burchett to the Mendocino Complex Fire in northern California.

It was Burchett’s second deployment to fight fires in California.  He was on a different fire last year.
 
“This is a job that we love and get into this profession to help people and Matt jumped at the chance to go assist in California and I think anybody in our department would do the same,” said Battalion Chief Bart Vawdrey.
 
Those who worked with Burchett said fighting wildland fires was his passion and he was good at it.
 
“This was his true love and passion and what he really was known for was wildland firefighting,” said Chief Dan Petersen with Unified Fire Authority.  “He possessed an incredible knowledge and wealth in this area.”
 
But Monday night, the fury of the Mendocino Complex Fire got the best of Burchett.  According to the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa California, Burchett was struck by a falling tree.  Draper City officials have yet to receive official word how Burchett died.
 
“Advance life support care was given immediately by crews on site,” said Draper Mayor Troy Walker.  “Within 40 minutes, Matt was airlifted by a Medevac helicopter to the Ukiah Valley Medical enter, where he later succumbed to his injuries.”
 
And now a firefighter who for the past twenty years served his community was gone.
Burchett left Unified Fire Authority after twenty years to become a battalion chief with Draper Fire.  He joined the department in May.
 
“If you knew Matty affectionately, you called him Matty so that’s what I’m going to call him today,” said assistant fire chief Mike Watson with Unified Fire.  “He trained and kept safe hundreds of wildland firefighters. He got firefighters out situations that were quite grave.”
 
Including his own life, Watson said.
But Burchett did what firefighters do, answer a calling, save lives and give their best when death called.
 
“He was special,” said Watson.  “He was a good, good soul.”
 
Draper city officials said it’s unknown when four other firefighters from their department will return.  And it’s also unknown when Burchett’s body will be released and returned to Utah.
 
A donation site has been set up for Burchett’s family.  It is sponsored by Utah Firefighter’s Emerald Society.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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