A somber procession made its way from Mariposa County to Stanislaus County Monday afternoon with crowds gathering along the way to pay their respects to Braden Varney, who died July 14 while battling the blaze at the Ferguson Fire.
Varney, 36, was a Heavy Fire Equipment Operator with the Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit. He had been working to create a firebreak when the bulldozer rolled over and down a ravine. Crews were finally able to reach Varney’s remains Monday and his body was transported to the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office.
All along the procession route the stream of vehicles escorting Varney’s remains were saluted by fire and public safety personnel, as well as community members coming out to pay their respects. Fire personnel were perched atop the Keyes Road freeway overpass and Ceres firefighters set up two ladder trucks near St. Jude’s Catholic Church on Mitchell Road.
In a statement released on Friday, California Gov. Jerry Brown said: “Anne and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Heavy Equipment Operator Braden Varney, a man who dedicated his life to protecting his fellow Californians. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and many colleagues who are mourning this sudden and tragic loss.”
Varney had been with Cal Fire for 10 years, following in the footsteps of his father, who also was a heavy equipment operator with Cal Fire. Varney was a resident of Mariposa and leaves behind his wife and two young children.
The Ferguson Fire broke out Friday in the Sierra National Forest in Mariposa County. It has burned more than 12,500 acres and is only 5 percent contained, as of Tuesday. The fire is being fueled by dry brush and timber and is over some very steep terrain. More than 1,400 personnel have been dispatched to the fire, including firefighters from Turlock.
Varney’s death is being investigated by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.