Firefighter killed battling California wildfire honored in memorial service

(Photo: KOTA-TV)

RAPID CITY, S.D. (WRIC/KOTA) — Bagpipes sounded and bells rang Sunday in South Dakota as hundreds lined up to pay their respects to David Ruhl, a Forest Service firefighter killed in a California fire.

“We lost a courageous man,” Mary Wagner, associate chief of the U.S. Forest Service told 8News affiliate KOTA at the memorial. “It is a loss felt by every member of the Forest Service.”

Ruhl, a Black Hills National Forest firefighter, was killed fighting a fast-moving blaze near Alturas, California. He had vanished while fighting the 800-acre fire. He went missing Thursday, July 30, in hazardous fire conditions. His body wasn’t recovered until a day later. The U.S. Forest Service says Ruhl died of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation.

The community between firefighters is a tight-knit group. Fellow firefighters came from across the country to stand and salute Ruhl as his ashes were escorted to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center for his memorial.

“There are a lot of people out here supporting Dave and his family. It’s really wonderful that they’re all here,” Ruth Esperanze, district ranger with the Mystic District, said.

Although not everyone at Ruhl’s memorial was a firefighter, most had a deep connection to the profession. Mary Kinney’s father has been a firefighter with the Forest Service for about 40 years.

“It’s hard,” Kinney remarked about losing a firefighter.

Kinney brought her children to Sunday’s memorial to help them understand “how precious life is.”

(Photo: KOTA-TV)
(Photo: KOTA-TV)

“It is important to honor those who have served our country,” Kinney told KOTA. “And it’s important for my kids to know that it’s good to honor those who serve and put their lives in danger for us.”

Ruhl was remembered throughout the memorial by close friends and fellow firefighters as a man who had a passion for protecting not only his community, but also his family, including his wife, Erin, his son, Tyler and daughter, Ava.

Ruhl’s funeral is set for Monday, 10 a.m. at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Rapid City. He will be interred at the Black Hills National Cemetery.

A memorial has been established with the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

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