A Bureau of Land Management firefighter was killed Friday afternoon in an accident while working on a hazard-tree removal project, the BLM office reported in a news release Saturday.
Craig resident Brett Stearns, 29, was killed about 4:30 p.m. Friday during a hazard tree abatement project at Freeman Reservoir, 15 miles northeast of Craig.
A federal accident investigation team is conducting a "detailed investigation" into the fatal incident, the BLM reported.
Stearns was working on a project with about 12 other BLM firefighters when he was struck by a falling tree.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Stearns was an engine captain and had worked in the fire program for the BLM Little Snake Field Office in Craig since 1999.
"He was a leader," said Lynn Barclay, a BLM fire mitigation/education specialist with the Little Snake Field Office. "People looked up to him. He had the capability to inspire people, all those around him, to go the distance and do their best.
"He was a wonderful person."
Stearns is survived by his wife, mother, father, brother and half sister, the BLM reported.
A funeral has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Chapel, 1295 W. Ninth St., in Craig.
John Husband, Little Snake Field Office manager, said Stearns was a brave public servant.
"On behalf of the Little Snake Field Office and the Northwest Colorado Interagency Fire Management Unit, I offer my condolences to the family and friends of Brett Stearns," Husband said in the news release. "He dedicated his life to protecting the lives and property of the public. Firefighting is a dangerous profession, and firefighter safety is the number one priority on fires and projects such as this."
There are more than 40 active firefighters working for the BLM's offices in Meeker, Kremmling and Craig.
Barclay said Stearns' death has been hard on his fellow firefighters and BLM officials.
"The fire community is a family," she said. "We're tight-knit, close. It's hit everyone very hard, but people are banding together and supporting the Stearns family and looking at how we can best remember Brett and honor him."
Stearns was "always eager" to work with children on fire education and prevention programs at area schools, Barclay said, and he was a mentor to new recruits. Stearns served as an instructor at times with the Colorado Wildfire and Incident Management Academy.
"He was a really kind and caring person," Barclay said.
"He was someone that is well respected and held in high regard by his peers, and not just locally, but across the country."
Joshua Roberts can be reached at 875-1791, or firstname.lastname@example.org.