Family, firefighters remember two pilots killed fighting Iron County fire in 2012

Jun 3, 2022, 10:56 PM | Updated: Jun 6, 2022, 2:28 pm

HAMBLIN VALLEY, Utah — As we enter wildfire season, many firefighters in southern Utah took a few moments to remember and honor two firefighters who were killed while battling a fire in Iron County 10 years ago.

There are many places in Utah where time seems to stand still. But for Paula Chambless, there’s one spot where she can’t believe how fast time has gone by.

“How has it possibly been 10 years?” she asked Friday.

She will never forget that day in 2012 when her son, Ronnie Chambless, and his captain, Todd Tompkins, died in a plane crash while helping to fight a wildfire in the Hamlin Valley area of Iron County.

“Here’s just a few thoughts of reflection back 10 years ago,” Paula Chambless said.

Firefighters who knew both men wanted to make sure no one in their firefighting family forgot, either.

So, on Friday, they gathered at the site where Bureau of Land Management Air Tanker 11 crashed — at the memorial honoring them.

To me, that’s what it’s about — keeping their memory alive, Chambless said. “That’s just…it’s very important to me.”

It’s also important to Cassie Cannon, who just had to wave at the tanker that flew by dropping water in tribute.

Tompkins is her husband and she and her family have visited this memorial every year.

“We thank them for putting something up that we can come back and remember him year over year, that his family will come, and we have, because it’s here,” Cannon said.

Many people have visited too, leaving pieces of the plane they find as a way to honor the men and say thank you.

“I’m always blown away by the community and support,” Cannon said. “It means a lot to our family.”

Firefighters raised the money for this memorial and have maintained it through the years.

“Yeah, (it’s) important to us,” said Iron County Fire Warden Ryan Riddle. “It’s important to remember these fallen firefighters. It’s important to show the families we still care.”

Many firefighters who were here on that day also used Friday as a training session for newer firefighters, to teach them about what it’s like to deal with an emergency situation in the middle of another emergency situation.

“You’re trained to basically send every response possible that you can,” said Isaac Shinkle with the Cedar City Air Center.

That day is one no one who was involved will ever forget. This memorial makes sure those who weren’t here know the sacrifices that were made.

“It’s been hard to come and see the fire that he fought and where the plane crashed and where they died, but every year, there’s been a little bit of rebirth and regrowth and that’s beautiful to see,” Cannon said.

All it takes is time.

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Family, firefighters remember two pilots killed fighting Iron County fire in 2012