ST. CHARLES, Ill. (FOX 32 News) - Three firefighters are being remembered a fter they were killed in the efforts to put out about 100 wildfires in Washington.
When the firefighters rushed up a narrow, winding gravel road with steep hills on either side, their vehicle crashed. Before they could escape, flames rolled over them, killing three firefighters inside and injuring four others nearby, one critically, authorities said.
The deaths happened in the scenic Methow River valley about 115 miles northeast of Seattle, where a series of blazes covering close to 140 square miles had merged. The flames burned an undetermined number of homes and triggered orders to about 1,300 people in the outdoor-recreation communities of Twisp and Winthrop to evacuate.
The bodies of those firefighters were removed from the area Thursday and escorted by emergency vehicles with flashing lights.
FOX 32 News has learned that one of the fallen firefighters is from the Chicago area.
26-year-old Andrew Zajac of Downers Grove , and more recently, Winthrop, Wash., was one of the three firefighters identified.
Thursday night, the Baker Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Charles, where Andrew's mother is the senior pastor, posted a statement on Facebook saying, "We grieve the loss of Pastor Mary and Jim Zajac's son, Andrew, while fighting wildfires in the state of Washington," the statement said.
Zajac's parents live in St. Charles, and his father's dentist practice is in Downers Grove.
According to a report, Zajac received a degree in biology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland in 2010 and a master's of science degree from the University of South Dakota in 2014. He was a two-year starter at right tackle for Case Western's football team.
He had previously worked as firefighter in New Mexico.