WENATCHEE, WA, U.S.A.
FIREFIGHTER, USDA FOREST SERVICE OKANOGAN-WENATCHEE NATIONAL FOREST, WA
08/19/2015, TWISP RIVER FIRE, WASHINGTON STATE DNR LAND NEAR TWISP
On August 19, 2015 Firefighters Richard Wheeler, Andrew Zajac, and Tom Zbyszewski were involved in initial attack operations and protecting homes on the fire near Woods Canyon and Twisp River Roads in Washington State. The winds suddenly shifted 180 degrees, their engine missed a curve on the narrow road and crashed down a 40′ embankment. The fire overtook the vehicle: the three firefighters perished.
Richard Randall Wheeler, 31, was born and raised in South Haven, Michigan. He married his wife, Celeste, in December 2012. They moved to Wenatchee, Washington in April 2014 to pursue Rick’s career as a firefighter.
Fighting fires was in his blood. He was a fourth-generation firefighter. He caught the fire bug in his early twenties, shortly after leaving Americorps. Rick held many seasonal fire positions with the U.S. Forest Service. For several years he worked for the Tatanka Hotshots of South Dakota. In between seasons, Rick would return to Michigan to attend Grand Valley State University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in natural resources management in the spring of 2013. He planned on using his degree and seasonal work experience to obtain a permanent position with the Forest Service.
After moving to Wenatchee, he worked on an initial attack fire crew at the Wenatchee River Ranger District out of Leavenworth, Washington, for the 2014 season. For the 2015 season, he was working for the Methow Valley Ranger District engine crew based in Winthrop, Washington.
Rick loved anything to do with the outdoors. He was an avid fisherman, hunter, and hiker. He belonged to a church hiking group, and was known for placing extra weight in his pack as a challenge, and to keep in shape for the upcoming fire seasons. He would always push himself to be the best he could be.
As a person who lived in each moment, Rick will be remembered for his smile, laughter, and energy. He hated sitting around. He was always trying to learn something new and was always finding new hobbies.
Rick will be remembered as a loving husband, brother, and son. He leaves behind wife, Celeste; parents, Karen and Randy Morey; and brothers, Jacob Morey, Nathan Morey, and Robert Wheeler.