Firefighting mom dies working alongside son on California wildfires

Diana Jones, a 63-year-old volunteer firefighter from Cresson, Texas, was killed Monday while working alongside her firefighter son to battle the California wildfires.

Jones, who had been a member of the Cresson Volunteer Fire Department for nearly five years, had reported to work on the Tatham Fire in northern California along with her son, Ian Shelly, a captain in the same Texas-based unit.

“Calm, steady, and always there would be adjectives to describe her,” Cresson Fire Chief Ron Becker told TODAY Parents. “I was just in a meeting our chaplain conducted with 40 of us in the room. He opened the floor up for remembrances and there were so many compliments and so many examples of where she had been there for people and if there’s a negative thing, I don't know what it is."

A news release from the USDA Forest Service reported one fatality and one injury from a vehicle accident on August 31, 2020, and a Facebook post, shared with the family’s permission, from the Cresson Volunteer Fire Department confirmed Jones’ identity.

“Diana was a servant, she served us and our community in so many ways without seeking recognition,” the social media post read. “Our Chaplain's church provides a lunch every Tuesday for area first responders. After attending a few times, instead of taking her rightful place being served at the table she started bringing home cooked dishes and served other first responders.”

Becker remembered Jones’ selfless nature most prominently.

“Diana was always looking for ways to help or serve people,” he said. “She did not put herself first. She was a pretty good cook and would take dishes over to this luncheon to be served when the whole thing was set up to serve people like her, but that’s not what she did. It’s so many things that we’re discovering in the last few days.”

The fire chief shared a poignant perspective on Jones’ life and commitment to service.

“When she would go off to the West, there would be things that weren’t getting done that we would realize she did,” the fire chief said. “Diana was in her late 50s, when most people would say, ‘It’s time for us to sit back and enjoy life.’ Instead, she takes up being a volunteer firefighter and gets her EMT certification at the age where most people are saying, ‘Now it’s time for me to be taken care of.’ All you have to do is look at her age, see what she was doing and say — wow.”

A California Highway Patrol (CHP) spokesman told KQED news station that Jones was working Forest Route 25N09 when the fire became more active. In an effort to escape, Jones and two other firefighters climbed into their vehicle and put it in reverse. The truck plunged fifteen feet down an embankment and slammed into a tree, engulfing the vehicle in flames and trapping Jones.

A second firefighter received medical treatment for burns, while the third escaped unharmed. CHP is leading an investigation into the incident.