Veteran logger was fire’s only fatality

Alan Wayne Wyatt had years of timber-felling experience before his death. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Alan Wayne Wyatt family

Alan Wayne Wyatt had years of timber-felling experience before his death.

It’s hard to comprehend why a seasoned, cautious logger became the only firefighter to die fighting the Missionary Ridge Fire, say those who knew him best.

Alan Wayne Wyatt was on Middle Mountain near Vallecito Reservoir on July 2, 2002, when a live, 20-inch aspen toppled without warning behind him, striking him in the head.

It was his first day on the job.

Wyatt, who was 51, was a gregarious rancher, rodeo cowboy and volunteer firefighter. But he turned serious when, as a lay preacher, he took up the scriptures at nondenominational church services or Bible study groups in eastern Oregon, Vikki Wyatt, his wife, said by telephone from Lakeview, Ore., where she now lives.

“He was a gifted cowboy preacher who spoke from the hip,” Wyatt said. “I miss him because it was a great partnership.”

The couple would have marked their 42nd wedding anniversary this year.

As a timber faller, Wyatt was a professional with absolute attention to detail, Ron Jerabek Wallace said from Costa Rica, where he now lives.

“He was a cowboy who gave a unique twist to the Bible,” said Jerabek Wallace, who worked as a timber faller with Wyatt in Alaska and arrived in Durango with him from the Million Fire in the San Luis Valley.

Gary Krauss, who as a teenager was about 10 years younger than Alan Wyatt when he lived with the couple, learned to fall and buck timber from his mentor.

“It was black and white with Alan, no gray,” Krauss said. “Everything had to be done correctly. He was a very astute timber faller with an appreciation for the craft.”

The wind had blown incredibly hard on July 2, hard enough to topple live aspen, Krauss said. But it subsided in the afternoon.

“When the aspen crushed Alan, I was some distance away,” Krauss said. “I ran with my chain saw and bucked the log.

“He had a pulse but he was done for.”

Krauss finished the back cut on the tree Wyatt was cutting because very little wood was holding it.

“It was ironic,” Krauss said. “Alan faced the first tree I fell and I sawed out the last tree he faced.”