A firefighter helping to battle a forest fire near Yosemite National Park has been killed when his bulldozer rolled over, authorities confirmed Saturday.
Braden Varney, 36, leaves behind a wife and two children, according to CalFire, the statewide fire authority.
Varney was a heavy equipment operator for CalFire, and authorities Saturday morning said his bulldozer rolled into a ravine while fighting the Ferguson Fire. Firefighters in California often use heavy equipment to cut through vegetation and create fire breaks to slow or stop wildfires. Afterwards, they return to the area to repair the damage as best they can.
“Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was tragically killed while battling the Ferguson Fire,” CalFire said in a statement. “Braden leaves behind a wife & two small children. Please join us in keeping Braden's loved ones in your thoughts.”
Varney was assigned to the Madera-Mariposa-Merced CalFire unit, which has been fighting the approximately 130-acre Ferguson Fire in the Sierra National Forest near El Portal, close to the Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite.
Varney's death "has left all of us deeply saddened, our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones and CALFIRE fellow firefighters," the U.S. Forest Service in California said in a statement. "A loss to one is a loss to us all."
The Ferguson Fire is one of dozens burning across California and the West as the region struggles with high temperatures that have dramatically increased fire danger. The Ferguson Fire is one of the newest and was only reported late Friday evening. Based on equipment requests and aircraft tracking systems, firefighters were hitting the fire hard over fears it could grow rapidly.
In California, firefighters are still battling the 90,000-acre County Fire west of Sacramento and the 38,000-acre Klamathon Fire on the Oregon border. Those fires are both now 90 percent contained, but a series of other small fires has popped up across the state.
More than 1 million acres across the country are currently part of active wildfires, according to federal officials. So far this year, about 3.3 million acres have been burned by wildfires across the country, slightly ahead of normal for this time of year, based on a 10-year average.