Fire’s toll burns close to home

On Oct. 26 a deadly fire broke out southeast of Cabazon in Esperanza Avenue. The fire has burned 40,000 acres thus far, claiming the lives of five firefighters. Captain Mark Loutzenhiser, Jess McLean, Jason McKay, Daniel Hoover-Najera, and Pablo Cerda were engulfed by raging flames while trying to protect a house.

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By Haylee Qualls

By Haylee Qualls

On Oct. 26 a deadly fire broke out southeast of Cabazon in Esperanza Avenue. The fire has burned 40,000 acres thus far, claiming the lives of five firefighters.

Captain Mark Loutzenhiser, Jess McLean, Jason McKay, Daniel Hoover-Najera, and Pablo Cerda were engulfed by raging flames while trying to protect a house. McLean, Hoover, and McKay died on the scene but Loutzenhiser and Cerda were rushed to the hospital.

Loutzenhiser died upon arrival while Cerda went on to survive for five more days before passing on Oct. 31. Cerda, who had burns on over 90 percent of his body, under-went extensive surgery to remove damaged skin.

Arrowhead Regional Medical Center officials supported Cerda’s family in removing him from life-supporting claiming that they were “delaying the inevitable”.

Cerda graduated in May from the Riverside Community College Fire Academy. Students and staff of the RCC Ben Clark Training Center have been deeply affected by this loss and say that Cerda was a “kind young man”.

Fellow classmates are trying to start a fund for the family of Cerda, but nothing has yet been finalized.

Riverside County homicide investigators are still searching for the arsonist. The reward has reached $500,000 for any information leading to the arsonists arrest.

On Oct. 31 officials took Raymond Lee Oyler, of Beaumont, into custody. Oyler is a suspect in two other arson cases and is considered a “person of interest” in the Esperanza fire. If charged, Oyler will face five counts of murder.

Councilmen John Benoit released a bulletin encouraging community support. San Bernardino County is holding a blood drive to aid those injured in the Esperanza fire.

A fund has also been set up in honor of the fallen firefighters.

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