SAN DIEGO -- Grieving family, friends and colleagues gathered at a Liberty Station church Saturday to salute and say goodbye to a firefighter from Escondido who lost his life facing down the largest wildfire in California history.
The private late-morning service at The Rock Church honored the memory and sacrifice of Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson, who served the state agency for more than eight years prior to his Dec. 14 death in the line of duty.
"Let there be no doubt to anybody in this room that Cory Iverson died a hero," Tony Mecham, chief of Cal Fire San Diego, told attendees. "Cory Iverson lost his life for one very simple reason: He put others first."
Mecham said Cal Fire stations throughout San Diego County were being covered by other fire departments so that Iverson's comrades could take part in his service.
"Cory was ours," Mecham said. "All of ours. And that's why we're here."
Attendees said Iverson was a devoted family man and a respected firefighter.
"He provided me with the greatest gift of all -- love," Iverson's wife, Ashley Iverson, said. "He was the greatest father to his munchkin, and the most devoted man I know. When Cory decided he wanted something, he got it. When there was a job to be done, he did it, and 10 more."
She said she was forever grateful for all the support from the community after her husband's death.
"It is something I never before felt worthy of and will simply never be able to repay," she said.
Iverson, who was assigned to the Ventura-area inferno as part of a fire-engine strike team from Cal Fire's San Diego unit, left behind a pregnant wife and a 2-year-old daughter.
Mecham said although the loss has shaken Cal Fire to its core, his crews are ready to do whatever it takes to make sure Ashley and her children have whatever they need. Cal Fire crew members say saving, rescuing and helping is what will help them feel better.
"It's part of the healing process for us, too," Mecham said. "It's not just when you go into a burning building or a fire that you're looking out for your brother and sister -- that continues long after."
Mecham said the loss touched him so personally that he has pledged to stand with the Iverson family through their ups and downs for the rest of his life.
The 32-year-old firefighter suffered burns and smoke inhalation near Fillmore while helping battle the Thomas Fire, which has spread over 273,400 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and led to two fatalities since erupting north of Santa Paula nearly three weeks ago. As of Friday evening, the huge burn area was 65 percent contained.
Upon learning of Iverson's death, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state Capitol flags to be flown at half-staff.
"His bravery and years of committed service to the people of California will never be forgotten," the governor stated.
An online account established to help Iverson's family with funeral costs and other expenses can be found here.