Loved ones and firefighters from around California gathered in Point Loma Saturday to celebrate the life of fallen San Diego County firefighter Cory Iverson, killed while battling the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties that by Friday had become the largest fire in recorded state history.
Cal Fire Engineer Cory Iverson, 32, of Escondido, was part of a strike team made up of five engines with Cal Fire San Diego on the front lines of the Thomas Fire in Fillmore, California when an accident occurred at about 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14.
The Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office determined Iverson died of smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. Details of the incident that led to his death have not been released.
Cal Fire said they are conducting an investigation into the incident, which will provide insight into the circumstances surrounding the death.
A private memorial service for Iverson began at 10 a.m. Saturday at The Rock Church in Point Loma.
Iverson leaves behind his wife, Ashley and their two-year-old daughter. The couple was expecting their second child in May.
After nearly a dozen people took the stage to fondly remember Iverson, Ashley stood at the podium to speak.
Before saying a word, she took a deep breath that could be felt throughout the room.
"'Just breathe' is what I told one of my best friends when she lost her soulmate at the age of 22 seven years ago,” the widow began.
"Will you join me in taking a breath?"
Ashley said that although the past few weeks have been some of the worst of her life, she was without words at the amount of support she has received.
"'Wow' is all I can say and feel today and over this past week and two days," Ashley said. "The overwhelming amount of love I have felt is otherworldly."
Those who knew Iverson said the top priority right now is to take care of his family. Online fundraising efforts are underway to do just that.
An online fundraising page was created by a close friend and co-worker of Iverson’s widow to assist the family with funeral costs and other expenses they may have. In it's first few hours live, the page had already raised $20,000 for the Iversons.
By Saturday, the page had surpassed the half-way point on its way to meeting a $1 million goal.
Cal Fire San Diego County Firefighters Benevolent Fund has also set up a donation page for Iverson’s family. Donations can be made here.
California Gov. Jerry Brown flew in from Sacramento for the Celebration of Life and met with the Iversons ahead of the service, according to Cal Fire Cheif San Diego Chief Tony Metcham.
Iverson had spent most of his life fighting fires. He was an eight-year veteran of Cal Fire and had previously spent seven years with Harmony Grove Fire Department.
"If you were going to clone a firefighter, you would clone Cory Iverson,” Cal Fire Chief San Diego Chief Tony Metcham said at the service, echoing a sentiment shared by many of the mourners who took the stage one-by-one to share stories of the 32-year-old.
Family and close friends told stories of Iverson's determination, quick wit and sometimes stubborn, but charming personality. They described him as a "model firefighter" and a "happy man."
“To put it bluntly, he’s the kind of man you’d want your daughter to marry and the type of fireman you’d want your son to grow up to be,” Cal Fire Capt. John Heggie said days after Iverson's death.
Last week, thousands of firefighters lined freeway overpasses as Iverson's remained traveled a more than 200 mile route from Ventura County to San Diego.
Iverson's death is the second attributed to the Thomas Fire, which on Saturday had been burning for two-and-half weeks and had become the largest in recorded California state history at 273,400 acres.
The blaze surpassed San Diego County's 2003 Cedar Fire that killed 15 people.