Memorial Service Held for Hilo Native Killed Fighting California Fire

August 5, 2018, 12:03 PM HST (Updated August 5, 2018, 10:17 PM)
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A Memorial Service was held for fallen firefighter Captain Brian Hughes, on Saturday Aug. 4, 2018, at the Ernest E. Valdez Hall in Fresno, California. Hughes is a former Hilo native and was the captain of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crew based out of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. He died while fighting the Ferguson Fire on the Sierra National Forest, west of Yosemite National Park.

Brian Hughes, Captain of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots based in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, lost his life in an accident on the fireline on July 29. He was 33.

Escorted by the Arrowhead Hotshots, fire staff from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the National Park Service, and firefighters from around the nation, a procession of interagency fire apparatus traveled from Chukchansi Park to the memorial honoring Captain Hughes.

The memorial was attend by over 1,500 people, including family members, members of the Arrowhead Hotshots, staff from the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, USDA Forest Service, as well as many fire departments and agencies within the fire community.

The order of service included an interagency honor guard and bagpipes, folding and presentation of the U.S. Flag, and a traditional firefighter last bell ceremony. Members of the family, National Park Service, and the Hotshot community spoke to the audience about Captain Hughes’ life and firefighting career.

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“Brian’s legacy lives on in every life he saved and place he protected,” said Woody Smeck, Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “We will remember and honor his sacrifices and service, now and forever, in the extraordinary places that he helped to protect.”

An official memorial website has been established in honor of Captain Hughes. There, the public can learn about him, upcoming memorial services, and where to send condolence letters or contributions. The site also includes a section for visitor-submitted memories and condolences.

As Captain Hughes was originally from Hilo, a memorial service is planned in Hilo on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018. Information will be posted to the website above as details are finalized.

Captain Brian Hughes was born on Aug. 1, 1984 in Hilo, Hawai‘i. He grew up near Akaka Falls and attended Hilo Union, Hilo Intermediate and Hilo High School. As a child, Brian loved running around and playing sports. He enjoyed swimming and surfing, and was most at peace in the ocean. He started his own yard business at age 13, with the hopes of saving up to buy a car. The business was a booming success, leading Brian to set higher and higher goals for himself, and to work hard at everything he set his mind to. He loved outdoor adventure, and learned to be self-reliant in the wilderness. In high school, he was a star athlete in varsity soccer, track and cross-country.

Aside from a brief, youthful aspiration to become a stunt man, Hughes’ career goal was always to become a firefighter. His first professional job was with the Larimer County Yellow Jackets, an emergency fire and rescue unit in Fort Collins, CO. After two years, in 2006 he was hired as a seasonal hotshot in Alaska on the Midnight Suns crew. After that first taste of hotshot life, he was hooked. The next year he joined the Roosevelt hotshots, where he worked from 2007–2009. It was there that he met Joe Suarez, who would later recruit Brian for the Arrowhead crew.

In 2010, Brian joined the Monterey hand crew on the Los Padres National Forest. His dream was to build that crew to hotshot status. During his years on the Los Padres crew, he in detailed multiple positions to get captain experience, and completed every task book he could get his hands on. After four years with the hand crew, he joined the BLM in Alaska as a specialist. During that year, he enthusiastically took on the tasks and details needed to achieve captain’s qualifications.

Brian moved to Squaw Valley, California in March 2015, and assumed the title of captain of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots. As captain, Brian was a trusted leader and mentor to the crew. He led by example, inspiring others to train hard, develop their skills, and understand not just how, but why things are done the way that they are. He intuitively grasped big-picture strategies and was able to effectively break down these strategies into actionable steps. His crew looked up to him and loved him as a brother.

Brian always put others first, stopping to help people no matter what. He was positive, funny, and selfless. A man of strong morals, Brian had a clear sense of the right thing to do at the right time. He loved the camaraderie of the team, and drove himself to contribute as much as he could to the group. He was sharp, savvy and loved to learn new things.

Around his friends and family, Brian was relaxed, carefree and silly. He had a dry sense of humor and would crack himself up when he let his guard down. He was a friend to everyone he met, and everyone who interacted with him walked away with a smile.

Brian is survived by his parents, Peter and Suen Hughes of Hilo, Hawai‘i; his sister, Meriel Hughes; and his fiancée, Paige Miller, who is expecting their child in February 2019. Brian will be sorely missed by these loved ones, and countless others whose lives he touched.

A GoFundMe donation page has been set up to assist his surviving family members.
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