A firefighter and San Diego native who died battling a San Bernardino County wildfire sparked by gender-reveal pyrotechnics was remembered by family, friends and colleagues Friday as a selfless and heroic man.
Charles Edward Morton, 39, a squad boss with the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots, died Sept. 17 while battling the El Dorado Fire in the San Bernardino mountains, according to San Bernardino National Forest officials.
Morton was born in San Diego and started his career in 2002 as a corpsman with the California Conservation Corps at the Butte Fire Center in Magalia, according to officials with the U.S. Forest Service. He began working for the U.S. Forest Service in 2006 with the Truckee Interagency Hotshots on the Tahoe National Forest, then joined the San Bernardino National Forest in 2007.
During a Friday memorial service held at the Rock Church in San Bernardino, Morton’s brother, Allen, said their family grew up in Oceanside, and that his brother graduated in 1999 from Ocean Shores High School.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” said Allen Morton, who urged mourners to continue sharing stories of his brother’s life so that he is not forgotten.
Morton’s fiancee, Monica Tapia, said the first thing he did on the morning of Sept. 17 was call her and tell her he loved her. She said that despite the pain of losing him, she was thankful for her time with him and the life and love he gave her over the course of 10 years.
She said she was “at peace” because “Charlie” loved what he did.
“His last act that he had on this earth was selfless,” she said. “It was heroic, it was brave. It is one that he knew he had to do. It is one that we will never forget and the nation will never forget. He chose to protect his mountain. He chose to protect his crew. He chose to protect us all here today.”
Tapia said the best way to honor him was to embody his generous character, “to be selfless, to be kind, to see the good in people, always be willing to give without expecting anything in return, always call your loved ones and tell them that you love them, always be there for one another when times are tough.”
Jimmy Avila, who supervised Morton as former superintendent of the Big Bear Hotshots said Morton was a dedicated firefighter and professional, but also a man who liked to have fun and greeted his fellow crew members with hugs because, “Brothers don’t shake hands, brothers hug.”
Avila said the crew members always called each other “Boss,” and so through tears, Avila ended his comments with, “Charlie, hey Boss, until we meet again, my friend.”
A GoFundMe page started by Tapia and Allen Morton has far exceeded its $50,000 goal. The page can be viewed here.
Morton is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins and friends, according to a statement from his family.
The El Dorado Fire broke out Sept. 5 near Yucaipa in San Bernardino County. As of midday Friday, the blaze had burned 22,604 acres, was 81% contained and had destroyed 10 structures, according to Cal Fire.
— City News Service