VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. (ABC News) – Devastated friends, family and colleagues intend to remember the firefighter who died Thursday battling a California wildfire as a “true hero,” though also asking, “Why Cory?”
Cory Iverson, 32, died while fighting the Thomas Fire in Fillmore, California, according to a page set up on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.
He’s survived by his five-months pregnant wife, Ashley, and their 2-year-old daughter, Evie. Cal Fire-San Diego Chief Tony Mecham choked up recalling the phone call informing him of Iverson’s death.
“When my phone rang this morning, it was the phone call no fire chief ever wants to get,” he told reporters in San Diego Thursday.
He added: “The whole family at the [Iverson] house thought, ‘Why Cory?’”
The unending inferno has burned for 12 days and ravaged 252,500 acres, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) officials said. As of this morning, the Thomas Fire, which has traveled more than 45 miles northwest, has prompted the evacuation of parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
It has also become the state’s fourth largest fire on record, but Iverson is the only firefighter to die so far, along with one resident. And as of today, the Thomas Fire was credited with demolishing 972 structures and damaging more than 200, with only 35 percent of the fire contained, officials said.
Iverson succumbed to the Thomas Fire in Fillmore, California, after it had started on the afternoon of Dec. 4 in Santa Paula, but it’s unclear exactly how the eight-year veteran died.
He was “outside the fire engine” but officials “don’t know where the accident site occurred,” chief Mecham said.
Iverson, who was part of a five-member firefighting strike team, had headed north Dec. 5 from his San Diego base to help fellow firefighters battle the flames, Mecham said.
His entire team has now been pulled from the Thomas Fire and many are reuniting with their families, he said.
Iverson will be remembered as a “great young man, he added, “and somebody who really loved his job and took pride in wearing the Cal Fire badge.”
Mecham, who said he knew Iverson, remembered the fallen firefighter as an “incredible guy” and said he was also a “loving father and husband.”
The death traumatized fellow firefighters who have since been “going through all the range of emotions when one of these tragedies occur,” he said.
Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott asked for a moment of remembrance. “… [P]lease join me in keeping our fallen firefighter and his loved ones in your prayers all the responders on the front lines in your thoughts as they continue to work under extremely challenging conditions,” Pimlott wrote in a news release.
On the crowdfunding site, which was created by a family friend, Iverson is described as a brave and dedicated first responder.
“Cory Iverson is a true hero to our Southern California community,” according to the site, which has raised slightly more than $38,000 of the $50,000 goal.
It goes on to say how Iverson was expected to welcome a new addition to the family “in May.” Instead, his death “leaves behind his best friend and devoted wife and a daughter with another little girl on the way.”
The fund is expected to help the family compensate for learning “to adapt to life without Cory.” It will also help with funeral arrangements, as well as “for their girls, for help with the home and the yard,” according to the site.
The 8,369 firefighters attempting to put out the Thomas Fire aren’t getting much of a respite this holiday season.
“Normally, this time of year, we’re slowing down and enjoying the holiday season with family,” Mecham said. “But we still have thousands of firefighters on the frontlines and it’s overwhelming for all of us.”