UPDATE: CalFire has identified the bull dozer operator as Robert Oliver Reagan III. He was 35 years old and from Friant, California.
The Soberanes Fire turned deadly overnight Tuesday when a bulldozer operator was killed.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Robert Fish says the operator was a private heavy equipment contractor who worked with Cal Fire when needed.
“Cal Fire only has a finite number of bulldozers, so we hire contract employees,” says Fish. “Most of these bulldozer operators and heavy equipment operators, they’re professionals that are doing normal heavy equipment work when they’re not assisting Cal Fire with firefighting.”
Fish said bulldozers are very effective tools for constructing a lot of fire lines in a short period of time. Also Tuesday, a second contracted bulldozer rolled over, but that operator was not hurt.
“I think what it speaks to is the terrain is very steep,” says Fish. “And the ground, once the material has been burned away, vegetation, grass, the soil, there’s nothing holding it together. The root systems are all destroyed. The footing, even for firefighters on line construction, it’s sometimes iffy and it’s difficult.”
Cal Fire incident Commander Todd Derum issued a statement saying, “Please keep your heartfelt thoughts and prayers with the family of our fallen cooperator and the firefighting community. We will provide further details as next of kin is notified.”
According to Fish, an investigation into the deadly accident will begin soon.