Parents: Vermont firefighter killed in Nevada loved outdoors
RENO — A federal firefighter from Vermont who was killed by a falling tree while battling a wildfire near the Nevada-Utah line had a passion for people and the outdoors, and he had hoped to become a paramedic, his family said Monday.
A federal investigative team is taking over the probe into the death of Justin Beebe, 26, who was killed over the weekend near Great Basin National Park, about 200 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Forest Service spokeswoman Ronda Bishop said.
Beebe of Bellows Falls, Vermont, was in his first year as a member of the Lolo Hotshots based in Missoula, Montana, one of the Forest Service’s elite crews who man the front lines of the most dangerous wildland blazes across the West.
His parents, Sheldon and Betsy Beebe, said their son had worked as a logger in New England and on his family’s farm in Westminster, Vermont, where they produced maple syrup. They describe him as a charismatic, rugged Vermonter who had a special way with children and devoted his life to the “woods and people.”
“He loved being out of doors. That was what called him,” they said in a statement released by a family friend. They said he had long wanted to become a Hotshot firefighter and was planning to become an emergency medical technician to help others.
Beebe was among 434 crew members fighting the lightning-sparked fire just outside the national park about 5 miles west of Baker, Nevada when he was struck by the tree on Saturday.
No other details about the accident were immediately available on Monday, said Adrienne Freeman, a public information officer for the National Park Service who traveled to the scene on Sunday from Yosemite National Park in California.
“This loss of life is tragic and heartbreaking,” said Great Basin National Park Superintendent Steve Mietz, who asked the public to keep Beebe’s family and co-workers in their thoughts and prayers.
The park is surrounded by mountain peaks taller than 10,000 feet and home to the rare bristlecone pine tree, some of which are thousands of years old.
Tim Garcia, Forest Service supervisor of the Lolo National Forest, said in a statement from Montana on Monday Beebe was “a fine person and tremendous employee and his loss is deeply felt.”
An avid hunter, fisherman and snowboarder, Beebe graduated in 2008 from Bellows Falls Union High School in Westminster, where he was captain of the soccer team and also starred in hockey and baseball, his family said. They said he was planning to marry his girlfriend, Jennifer Zaso.
Beebe had dyslexia, and his family said they were considering honoring his memory by developing a program that can help bring dyslexic children into the woods.