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Water truck driver dies in crash at SW Ore. fire

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NIGEL DUARA | August 7, 2013 03:15 AM EST | AP


PORTLAND, Ore. — Jesse Trader batted left and threw right, and when he decided to leave baseball behind, he didn't look back.

Schools recruited the 19-year-old from Albany, Ore., as an outfielder. He chose instead to join fire crews in a year that's shaping up to be among the worst in a decade.

He was killed Tuesday when the water truck he drove down a rural road in southwest Oregon overturned on an embankment. He was its sole occupant.

"This is what Jesse wanted to do with his life," said his mother, Gigi Trader.

Jesse Trader was taken from the scene by an air ambulance, but emergency responders were unable to revive him.

Gov. John Kitzhaber said Oregon owes Trader a debt.

"Even at such a young age, he was already contributing mightily to his community," Kitzhaber said in a prepared statement. "We owe him our gratitude for his commitment to helping protect his fellow citizens."

Trader's mother said his faith, and hers, helped her cope with the reality of his death just hours after getting a call from law enforcement telling her he was dead.

"He was always willing to share his faith with others. He never got in any trouble," Gigi Trader said. "He was somebody who was going to be very successful."

Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson said it was unclear from the crash site why the truck left the road and overturned.

"He was coming down the hill," Gilbertson said. "(The truck) was heading down to get a relief driver."

Trader was the second crew member killed this wildfire season in Oregon, and the 29th nationally.

John Hammack, 58, was killed in Central Oregon on Aug. 1 when the tree he was cutting fell on him.

The fires burning in southwest Oregon were ignited by lightning late last month. They are in some of the state's most difficult mountain terrain, fed by vegetation parched by a widespread drought.

The Big Windy Complex's three fires are burning northwest of Grants Pass. More than 1,100 personnel were assigned to them as of Tuesday morning, and the fire area is estimated at more than 14 square miles, or more than 9,100 acres.

Fire officials hope to have containment lines around the fires next month, but some say they could grow much larger and burn until fall rains and snow put it out.

"We're going to live with these fires until Oct. 15 or later," Dan Thorpe, forester in charge of the state Department of Forestry's southwest district who has seen 41 fire seasons, said in an interview published Tuesday in the Medford Mail Tribune.

The fire is in the Siskiyous, a range that's part of the Klamath Mountains straddling southwest Oregon and Northern California.

There are six major wildfires in Oregon as of Tuesday. One of the southwestern fires, named Brimstone, is now considered fully contained. The rest of the southwestern fires are burning on more than 93 square miles and have drawn more than 5,600 people to fight them.

The sixth fire, in Central Oregon, is burning on about 500 acres and has about 450 people working on it.

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Associated Press writer Tim Fought contributed to this report.