Thousands Honor California Firefighter Killed In The Line Of Duty

ANGELS CAMP, Calif. (AP) -- Eva Marie Schicke was remembered as a small-town girl who lived large, someone who was both religiously devout and fiercely competitive, equally musical and athletic and at home whether baby-sitting children or drinking with the guys.

More than 3,000 colleagues from California, and as far away as New York City, gathered Monday to honor Schicke, the first female firefighter from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to die in the line of duty. Schicke, who would have been 24 next month, died Sept. 12 while battling a fire in Stanislaus National Forest.

``No firefighter lives with guarantees. Eva was fully aware of the danger inherent in answering the call,'' said Jim Wright, CDF's chief of fire protection. ``She wanted to make a difference. ... She knew that acts of quiet heroism must be performed on a daily basis.''

Schicke was in her fifth season as a firefighter but only her first as a member of an elite helicopter squad. An investigation into the circumstances that led to Schicke's death is expected to take several more weeks.

A preliminary incident report released to CDF personnel last week states that Schicke's crew was alerted to two possible safety zones they could go to if they ran into trouble. One was on the road above the crew and the other was downhill in the Tuolumne River.

Schicke and two of her crew mates ran uphill, while the other four sought shelter in the river.

The service began with an engine from Schicke's Arnold-based station carrying her casket ahead of a procession of about 350 firefighting vehicles into the Calaveras County fairgrounds.

A line of uniformed firefighters stretched for a quarter-mile around the main arena as pallbearers unloaded the casket under an arch of flag-draped ladders.

For all the ritual, which included a flyover by three airtankers in formation, and the ceremonial sounding of the bells that call firefighters home, the funeral also had intensely personal moments.

A tape of Schicke and her mother singing that was played at her father's funeral last year was played once again.

When her brother, a Marine recently returned from Iraq, recalled how his little sister used to tear the heads off her Barbie dolls, several easels with floral displays and framed pictures crashed to the ground.

``I'm sorry, I'm sorry,'' John Schicke said, looking at the sky. ``I know she is laughing at us.''

Her family was presented with her badge, helicopter helmet, an American flag from her coffin and a California flag that was flown over the state Capitol in her honor.

Some of Schicke's crew mates carried her body to a private burial aboard the same helicopter from which she and six colleagues were lowered into the Tuolumne River Canyon before they were overtaken by flames.

Meanwhile, the fire that swept over Schicke and the other crew members in the forest near Sonora was fully contained at 800 acres Friday night.

Powered by a heart as tenacious as it was generous, Schicke ran her way to a starting position on her college basketball team, became the only woman on a 13-person helicopter firefighting crew, and kept working wildfires on weekends even after she started nursing classes this month.

Nick Triveri, Schicke's pastor from her home church in Placerville, comforted the audience by reading a notation Schicke had handwritten in her well-worm Bible.

``'Everything you go through has a happy ending ... eternity,''' he read. ``Eva would want me to tell you that.''