Hilo native killed fighting CA blaze remembered as leader, 'pillar of strength'

Hilo native killed fighting CA blaze remembered as leader, 'pillar of strength'
Published: Jul. 29, 2018 at 11:55 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 30, 2018 at 4:34 PM HST
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MARIPOSA, CALIFORNIA - On Sunday, fire crews in Northern California lined the streets to pay their respects to Hilo native Brian Hughes.

The 33-year-old died that morning after he was struck by a tree while battling a wildfire raging near Yosemite National Park.

Hughes was second in command of an elite firefighting team know as the Arrowhead Hotshots.

"These crews are trained and experienced to go into the toughest fire situations, to engage fire and take-on high risk situations and Brian was one of the best, said Sequoia and Kings National Park Superintendent Woody Smeck.

In the four years Hughes was a member of the Arrowhead hotshots, he built a reputation as a leader. Those who knew him say he was highly respected by his team not only for his work ethic but also his compassion.

One coworker told HNN he was always looking out for those around him.

"He was a pillar of strength," said Smeck. "This team has held together for two or three seasons now, intact. I think that's a big tribute to Brian and his personality. His ability to keep team together, connected, supported."

Hughes and his team were in the midst of a two-week rotation, and they were fighting the Ferguson Fire, which had claimed nearly 60,000 acres near Yosemite National Park when the hotshots were assigned to carry out a tactical operation Sunday morning.

"The Arrowhead hotshots were working in a really rugged piece of wilderness area on the Ferguson fire and Brian was struck by a tree while they were preparing for a firing operation," said Fire Information Officer Mike Theune.

"There is a lot we don't know unfortunately of the exact events. That's going to come out during the review."

Hughes was given first aid on scene, but died before he could be taken to the hospital.

"This is the fourth line of duty death of a firefighter just here in California this year," said Smeck. "I just ask keep Brain and keep these four firefighters in your hearts and minds. They're facing extraordinary risks right now here in California."

According to a USA Today report, Hughes leaves behind a fiancee who is 3 months pregnant.

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