More Fuel

On night four of the Soberanes Fire, 23,500 acres had burned, 20 homes had already been destroyed and smoke plumes stretched north to San Francisco. Cal Fire was battling multiple fires around the state, and, as is common, called in contract crews to help in the firefighting effort, pulling from its “call-when-needed” list.

One of those was Robert Reagan, a 35-year-old from Fresno County, who around 7pm was assigned to join Division T as part of a two-man bulldozer team to help construct a fire line off of Green Ridge Road in Palo Colorado. Around 9pm, Reagan relieved the other member of his team and took over on the 1999 Caterpillar.

Two hours later, his route was blocked by a fire engine and a hose; to get around it, Reagan talked to his fellow dozer-driver and the strike team leader for Division T. They decided he’d steer up a steep embankment, advance on a parallel road, then drive back down. But on the downhill, the dozer slipped, then a blade caught the ground and tipped, and Reagan was thrown from his seat and pinned. A nearby paramedic responded almost immediately, but Reagan was pronounced dead on the scene.

That’s the painful and painstaking story told in Cal Fire’s “green sheet,” an incident report completed whenever there’s an accident, according to spokesperson Lynne Tolmachoff. It’s not a thorough investigation – that’s still ongoing – but for in-house training purpose. In this case, “lessons learned” include “wear your seat belt.”

CalOSHA is also investigating Czirban Concrete Construction, the business that owned the Caterpillar and employed Reagan. The California Contractors State Licensing Board suspended Czirban’s license Oct. 26 in connection to a failure to pay a bonding company $7,500. The board is also conducting its own investigation in connection to the Soberanes Fire accident, according to spokesman Rick Lopes, into whether Czirban’s dozer was even licensed to do the kind of earth-moving work Cal Fire hired the company for. (“This company is licensed to perform concrete services,” Lopes says.)

Czirban’s license has been suspended before for bonding issues, as well as workers compensation violations. Most recently, in March, company owner Ian Czirban reported he was a one-man business with no employees, and hence exempted from providing workers comp.

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But he employed Reagan, at a minimum. Based on the apparent workers comp lie, Cal Fire removed Czirban from its “call-when-needed” list, Tolmachoff says, after the company responded to 10 fires in the past 10 years. Ian Czirban did not respond to requests for comment.

Reagan’s family launched a Gofundme page two days after his death to help support his wife and two young daughters.

As of press time, 1,163 donors had given $132,614 – well in excess of the family’s $16,000 fundraising goal. Just last week, the Monterey County Vacation Rental Alliance gave $1,000 with this message: “We are grateful for Robert’s service in fighting the Soberanes Fire, where many of us live and were affected. We will never forget his sacrifice.”

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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