10 years later: Remembering the crew of Engine 57, killed in Esperanza Fire

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Thursday, October 27, 2016
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Loved ones of the crew for Engine 57, who perished in the Esperanza Fire, came together 10 years later for a moment of silence.

BANNING, Calif. (KABC) -- Loved ones came together to remember the brave crew of Engine 57, who were overtaken by the wind-driven Esperanza Fire 10 years ago on Oct. 26, 2006.

The families of Mark Loutzenhiser, Jess "Gus" McLean, Jason McKay, Pablo Cerda and Daniel Najera joined hands in memory of the men who perished battling the Esperanza Fire.

"It's sacred ground to me, this is where my son took his last breath," Gloria Ayala-Najera, the mother of 20-year-old Daniel Najera said. "He did his darndest to get to safety, and he didn't make it."

Wednesday morning was much different than 10 years ago, as just a calm breeze swept through the area.

It's a stark contrast from when gusty Santa Ana winds powered an out-of-control Esperanza Fire through the Banning Pass and up the hills.

Authorities said the fire was no accident. Raymond Lee Oyler was convicted and sentenced to death for starting the fire that killed the crew of Engine 57. Oyler still sits on death row awaiting an appeal of his sentence.

"It's such a shame that someone had to start the fire and think of his own life, his own fun," Gloria Ayala-Najera said.

The firefighters were driving in the middle of the night to protect a home on top of a hill.

What the crew couldn't see was they were heading to an area that if the Esperanza Fire were to flare, they practically had no way to escape. And that's exactly what happened.

"Even 10 years later it still chokes me up," Greg Koeller, the owner of the home that the crew of Engine 57 was attempting to protect said.

Koeller has turned the property into a memorial for the fallen firefighters.

"I have respect for all the firefighters and allow everyone to come up here," he said.