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MEDFORD, Ore. — Friends, family, and fellow firefighters are in mourning on Wednesday as they confront a life without 56-year-old Frumencio Ruiz Carapia — a local wildland firefighter, husband, and father who lost his life in an accident on the Gales Fire in Lane County on Monday.
According to the Lane County Sheriff's Office, Carapia was hit when a tree suddenly snapped and came crashing to the ground along the eastern flank of the fire. Despite the efforts of his crew, the 20-year firefighting veteran succumbed to his injuries at the scene. He was due to return home to his family in Medford the next day.
Those who knew Carapia say that he was kind, loving, a care-free soul, and one great father.
Armando Tovar has been a firefighter for 11 years, and this is his sixth season leading a 19-person crew. Carapia was part of the crew when Tovar took on his role as crew boss, and they worked together for years on forestry projects above and beyond firefighting.
"I remember that he was . . . after a regular worker, he was a friend — a good friend to me," Tovar told NewsWatch 12. "He was a guy who liked to make jokes, and he was never sad. Every time you were with him, he knew just what to say. If you were sad, he would always be there for you, or if you made a mistake on a fire, he'd say 'hey, don't worry about it, we are human.'"
Monday, the day of Carapia's death, was Tovar's 30th birthday. For both of those reasons, he says that the day will stick with him forever.
"We talked about the day that was going to happen, and he gave me a hug and said 'happy birthday,'" Tovar recalls of that morning.
Tovar said that the accident happened around 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, but he remembers almost nothing from beyond that moment except that it was a bad day for himself and the rest of the crew.
Arnold Sicairos says that his family was greeted by Carapia when they moved into the neighborhood just over a year ago. He describes Carapia as an "honest, humble gentleman" who cared for the people around him. Sicairos set up one of the GoFundMe fundraisers, and he hopes to surprise Carapia's family with the money they raise.
"We might not know you on a personal level — we've only met as acquaintances — but know that we have a lot a love for you," Sicairos said. "We're here for you, and it's sad what happened . . . but you know God has a plan and just know we're literally a door knock away for you."
Carapia's employer, Esteban Gonzalez at GE Forestry, put out a statement on Tuesday addressing his death:
"We're heartbroken for the family and friends of our firefighter, Frumencio Ruiz. It's devastating to lose any member of our team. Frumencio has been with our company from day one and was indeed like part of the family. He was kind and hardworking.
"Frumencio had more than 25 years of firefighting experience. He was a squad boss on a National Type 2-IA crew on the Gales Fire in the Willamette National Forest.
"We make the safety of our firefighters our top priority, and every firefighter completes all the required training. Frumencio's training exceeded the requirements, and he was the most experienced firefighter on his crew. He drew from his extensive fire experience to keep his crew safe.
"This year, Frumencio had already been on several fires including Mezcal and Patagonia fires in Arizona, Tenant Fire in California, and two two-week assignments on the Bootleg Fire in Oregon. He lived in southern Oregon with his family and was originally from Mexico. We are with his family and by their side to support them through this time."