The Esperanza Fire

Meet the Author of "The Esperanza Fire"

The Esperanza Fire

Near Cabazon - Nearly 6 1/2 years ago, five firefighters were killed fighting the Esperanza fire, just west of the Coachella Valley.

Now, their stories live on in a book, "The Esperanza Fire," that may be made into a movie.

Last week, the author of the book, John Maclean, took me back to the scene, where so many lives were changed on Oct. 26, 2006.

On that day, daybreak revealed how much the Esperanza Fire had grown in just a few hours, fanned by Santa Ana winds.

A short time later, five U.S. Forest Service firefighters would die in the flames.

They were Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, Jason McKay, Mess McLean, Daniel Hoover-Najara and Pablo Cerda.

Firefighters found their burned-out truck when the smoke cleared.

Later in the day, we were told, it didn't have to happen.  The Esperanza Fire was arson, intentionally set around 1 a.m. that day.

Six days later, Raymond Lee Oyler was arrested.  Less than three years later, he was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of the firefighters.

It's an incredible story; a villain, five heroes and countless families whose lives were changed forever.

The story is available in a book written by John Maclean, who spent six years researching the fire.

He took us on a tour of the property, where the firefighters were overcome by the flames.

He showed us where the firefighters lost their lives that day  to something called an area ignition.  The flames were about a quarter of a mile away and surrounded them in just seconds.

Five simple crosses still stand on the property along with a memorial built by the homeowners.

The Octagon House that the firefighters of Engine 57 were trying to save is still a shell.  There are rubber marks  from fire hoses still burned into the sidewalk.  Charred logs remain.

Physical scars, that can't compare to the emotional scars of five families who lost loved ones that day.

Maclean tells us, "A lot of these people, grew up together, they joined the fire service together, they inter-married, they knew each other, they played ball together."

Maclean's book also focuses on the villain, Oyler, who now sits on death row.  Maclean is corresponding with Oyler.

"I think he's struggling with his soul. He hasn't gotten to the point with me of being forthright about what he did, why he did it.  That's one reason I stay in touch him, I'd like him to do that,"  Maclean says.

Maclean tells us a movie about the Esperanza Fire would focus on the families and the firefighting community.

"You join them up in Idyllwild and there are people you like, admire, recognize and then the things begin to happen that are dramatic and overpowering," Maclean says.

They are stories of so many people whose lives were changed that day.  Lives that need to be remembered.

"Wildland fires don't die out when the embers go cold.  These things go on for generations," Maclean says.

Legendary Pictures has picked up the rights to the book.

Wednesday night, Maclean will be doing a presentation on the book and a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Redlands from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m..

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