California Highway to be Named for Esperanza Firefighters

The California State Assembly Monday approved a resolution to rename Highway 243 in honor of five firefighters who died last year in the Esperanza fire.

The resolution by Assemblyman John Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes renames the 33-mile highway between Banning and Mountain Center the "Esperanza Firefighters Memorial Highway."

The approval comes on the same day that a Beaumont man accused of setting the October wildfire and of igniting 22 other blazes in the Banning Pass pleaded not guilty to 44 criminal charges, including five murder charges, in Riverside Superior Court.

The assembly resolution passed by a vote of 73-0. It now awaits consideration by the State Senate.

"I am pleased that my colleagues have joined in the outpouring of support by memorializing the sacrifice and valor of these five brave firefighters," Benoit said. "These heroes perished after selflessly protecting the homes and lives of the residents of the San Gorgonio pass communities. Their courage will never be forgotten by the grateful people of California."

The Oct. 26 Esperanza wildfire claimed the lives of U.S. Forest Service firefighters Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, Jess McLean, 27, Jason McKay, 27, Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, and Pablo Cerda, 23. They were trying to protect a hillside home north of Twin Pines when flames overwhelmed them.

Raymond Lee Oyler, 36, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and 39 other felony charges in connection with the Esperanza blaze and 22 other fires set between May and October of last year, according to court documents. The additional felony charges include arson and being in possession of destructive devices.

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