The 33-year-old firefighter who died Sunday while battling the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County was a leader and mentor to a 20-person elite crew responsible for battling blazes in the most rugged terrain in the region.
Capt. Brian Hughes, a firefighter with the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crew at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, was fatally struck by a falling tree on the fire line near Yosemite.
His crew had been operating in an area where there are a lot of dead trees, according to the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. He died at the scene.
Hughes is survived by his parents, Peter and Suen Hughes of Hilo, Hawaii; his sister, Meriel Hughes; and his fiancee, Paige Miller, who is expecting their first child in February, according to the conservancy.
His death leaves a void in the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots, one of the two interagency crews of the National Park Service, said Mike Theune, a fire information officer with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
“He was one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever met,” Theune said. “He was a leader and highly respected by his crew, but he was also the type of person you could share a laugh with.”
His family could not be reached for comment. The conservancy described him as a friend to everyone he met: “Brian always put others first, stopping to help people no matter what. He was positive, funny and selfless. A man of strong morals, Brian had a clear sense of the right thing to do at the right time.”
Hughes, who was born in Hawaii and had early dreams of becoming a stuntman, spent his first two years as a firefighter working in an emergency fire and rescue unit in Fort Collins, Colo., called the Larimer County Yellow Jackets, according to the Sequoia Parks Conservancy.
He went on to serve on the Midnight Suns hotshot crew in Alaska, the Roosevelt Hotshot Crew in Fort Collins, the Monterey hand crew with the Los Padres National Forest, and then returned to Alaska to work for the Bureau of Land Management. Four years ago, he joined the Arrowhead Hotshots crew, according to the conservancy.
At the time of his death, Hughes had been working a two-week rotation on the Ferguson Fire. Theune said the rotation requires firefighters to work 14 days straight for 16 hours at a time. After resting for two days, they begin another 14-day work period, continuing the rotation until the fire is contained, he said.
“As one can imagine, this has been a big hit for the firefighters, for the fire staff and for the entire firefighting community,” Theune said. “It’s times like these where we come together with the support of the community. Having that brotherhood and sisterhood makes a difference.”
Woody Smeck, the superintendent of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said at a press conference this week that Hughes was a pillar of strength for the hotshot crew and was a friend to all of his colleagues in the National Park Service.
Smeck said Hughes was the second-in-command of the Arrowhead Hotshots crew, a group of firefighters trained specifically to respond to high-risk fires.
“Brian was one of the best,” Smeck said. “ Gregarious, outgoing, positive in his outlook. Just a positive, wonderful individual.”
Hughes started with the Arrowhead Hotshots in 2015, working on the Rough Fire, which burned for three months, Theune said.