Though a record-shattering inferno, the Thomas Fire has led to the loss of only two lives: those of firefighter Cory Iverson and evacuee Virginia Rae Pesola.
Iverson was an apparatus engineer out of Cal Fire’s San Diego unit who was killed the morning of Thursday, December 14, on the fire’s eastern edge near Fillmore. Authorities said Iverson was part of a five-member strike team working near a “very active part of the fire.” They declined to describe exactly what wrong in detail before an investigation by Cal Fire is complete.
An eight-year veteran, the 32-year-old was the father of a 2-year-old daughter, and his wife has another on the way. His colleagues remembered him as a dedicated firefighter who was a joy to be around. His tragic death shook the entire firefighting community. “We had a very good day, but this was a very tough one for all of us,” Santa Barbara County Battalion Chief Chris Childers said after the death at the incident briefing. “It always hits hard when a firefighter dies.”
A procession of firefighting vehicles with motorcycle escorts followed the hearse carrying Iverson’s body from the Ventura County medical examiner labs to his hometown of San Diego. Along the way, firefighters and the public lined overpasses to give Iverson a final salute.
Pesola died on December 6, the third day of the Thomas Fire, while fleeing in her vehicle on Wheeler Canyon Road near Santa Paula. According to autopsy reports, the 70-year-old died of trauma, smoke, and burns. Details of the accident have not been released.
A longtime attorney, Pesola worked for the Santa Barbara County Counsel from 1996 to 1999. Shane Stark, former county counsel, remembered her as smart, ethical, and funny, with “a distinctive fashion and aesthetic sensibility.”