On March 22, with the sound of a bagpipe playing in the distance and with solemn gratitude for the sacrifice of the United States Forest Service, San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad Boss, Charles “Charlie” Morton, family, city officials, San Bernardino Forest Service, CAL FIRE , Big Bear Hotshots and friends, all gathered to pay tribute to a brave man who cared about his community, his comrades, his friends and most importantly, his family.
Morton was a 39 year old specialist in his field, who died while engaged in fire suppression operations on the El Dorado Fire on Sept. 17, 2020.
Yucaipian bagpiper Tress Maksimuk, CAL FIRE L2881 Honor Guard and San Bernardino National Forest Honor Guard began the ceremony with a procession and posting of the colors.
Yucaipa Fire Chief Grant Malinowski said, “Charlie’s memory will forever be immortalized today here at the city of Yucaipa Honor Walk.”
United States Forest Big Bear Hotshot Capt. Brian Johnson said, “To understand the meaning of this plaque we first have to understand what Charlie meant and to do that, it is a complicated task.”
Johnson continued to say, “Those of you that knew Charlie, also know that he wasn’t a simple man. He was a living embodiment of ‘He just had to be there.’ He was a giving and caring person, almost to the fault. Always striving to uplift those around him, regardless of the setting. It didn’t matter where we were at or what we were doing, his presence universally made circumstances better, events more memorable and experiences richer. He had an indescribable ability to make those lives around him better, simply because it was in his nature to do so. He lived his life with conviction. He valued his relationships above all else which was evident by the extraordinary measures he would take to maintain them. Often calling his friends for no other reason than to thank them for being his friend ... What can be said is this, Charles’ presence is greatly missed by his family, friends and anyone who was blessed enough to have known him.
“This plaque is not just a memorial. To those of us who knew him, it represents the continuing of his legacy and for those who did not know him, it is an opportunity, a pathway to learning about a truly remarkable man,” said Johnson.
Yucaipa City Mayor Greg Bogh said, “Charlie Morton, answered the call to service, to save lives and homes on Sept. 17. Charlie made the ultimate sacrifice. As the mayor of Yucaipa, my fellow council members and I, have made sure that his sacrifice will never be forgotten. Charlie is our hero and today we ensure his memory lives on forever.”
After the unveiling of the plaque by the Honor Guard, Morton’s finance Monica Tapia spoke. With tears Tapia said “Charlie was a man that always fought against all odds. Although he would make mistakes, he would not let them define him. He would fall but he would get right back up. He always stayed focused. He always stayed fighting. He always stayed brave. He always stayed ambitious. He always stayed positive. He always stayed strong…In the last moments that Charlie was with us, he fought until his last breath. He didn’t see an obstacle, he saw a challenge, he saw a purpose and he continued. It’s not about being a hero, it’s about facing your fears, it’s about going where you are needed and making the hardest decision in the worst of circumstances.”
Tapia encouraged the audience with “On those days that we feel overwhelmed or having a bad day, let us not look at it as an obstacle, but as a challenge.”
Malinowski said, “I’m very proud that the city of Yucaipa was able to immortalize Charlie’s memory and sacrifice. It was a very humbling experience but an honor to be a part of it.”
Yucaipian Bob Blair started the wheels turning for this particular memorial by posting on FaceBook and he said it turned into “a lot of people donating to get this done. Kandie Cansler introduced me to Councilman David Avila and it was brought before the city council for approval. It comes from an act of caring.” Blair and his wife Kim are involved in several fundraising projects for the community.