Pinpoint Weather Alert Day: Heavy mountain snow expected Thursday

Firefighter killed in Washington state had strong ties to Colorado

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.
Data pix.

DENVER -- One of the firefighters who lost his life in a Washington wildfire, spent time learning and working in Colorado. On Friday, those who battled fires alongside 31-year-old Rick Wheeler, remembered their friend.

“My heart just kind of sank,” said Georgie Craig, a former wildland firefighter who now lives in Salida. “Just the thought of what he probably went through was awful.”

Georgie met Rick Wheeler when he came to Colorado with AmeriCorps in 2004. The fourth generation firefighter quickly found his calling when he began working in the Boulder Ranger District.

“Some kids want to be firefighters, some kids want to be astronauts, he wanted to be a wildland firefighter,” Georgie said. “He chased his dream. He was a special person.”

Georgie fought fires alongside Wheeler for two fire seasons in and around Colorado.

“He was often the life of a crew,” she said. “He loved to play jokes, he loved to have fun and he took his job seriously."

Wheeler was part of a group battling a fire near the town of Twisp, Washington on Wednesday, when the sporadic winds threatened them. Four firefighters who fled on foot were injured. Wheeler, 20-year-old Tom Zbyszewski and 26-year-old Andrew Zajac crashed while trying to leave in a vehicle. They were soon overtaken by the flames.

“A wind shift is what caused this,” Georgie said. “It was heartbreaking. He was too young to die. At least he died doing something he loved, but he was too young.”

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.