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Ariz. firefighter’s death probed

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Associated Press


Authorities are investigating the death of a veteran firefighter who was reported missing from a blaze on the Fort Apache reservation in eastern Arizona.

Search crews found the body of Deon Classay, of Whiteriver, early Sunday morning after a nighttime search and efforts to reach him through a handheld radio he was carrying a day earlier failed.

The 43-year-old Classay was part of the Fort Apache Hotshots who did initial attacks on the lightning-caused Diamond Fire that broke out north of the Black River around noon Saturday. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Fort Apache Agency released his identity Monday and described him as an outdoors person, who enjoyed hunting and fishing.

The hotshot crew hiked back to camp after building a line around the 35-acre fire that was burning in steep, rocky terrain with dense fuel. The incident commander realized then that Classay was missing and initiated a search, according to a preliminary report.

Authorities have called for stress counselors and an accident investigation team to determine what happened, said Fort Apache Agency spokeswoman Candy Lupe. She had no further information on the circumstances surrounding Classay’s death.

Classay joined the Fort Apache Hotshots in 1990 and has worked on the state’s two largest wildfires — the Wallow Fire that broke out May 29 and burned 538,049 acres, mostly in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire that charred 468,000 acres in June 2002.