Requiem for a Hero Hotshot, Killed Fighting the Big Swamp Fire

August 19, 2022Noelle Wiehe
Collin James O. Hagan (July 20, 1995 - Aug. 10, 2022). Coffee or Die Magazine composite.

Collin James O. Hagan (July 20, 1995 - Aug. 10, 2022). Coffee or Die Magazine composite.

Killed while fighting Oregon’s Big Swamp Fire, Collin Hagan is being remembered by fellow Hotshots for his deft skills with a chain saw and his longtime dream to become a professional forester.

A member of the Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew, he died Aug. 10 after a tree fell on him while he and 21 others in his elite hand crew battled the blaze in the Willamette National Forest near Oakridge.

A federal serious accident investigation team is probing his death.

Hagan was 27. US Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Kirby-Lynne Shedlowski told Coffee of Die Magazine he’ll always be “remembered for his big smile and the enthusiasm and the joy he brought to the work he did.”

big swamp fire

The things he carried, Collin James O. Hagan (July 20, 1995-Aug. 10, 2022). Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

The US Forest Service reports that 98 personnel continue to fight the fire and only 20% of the perimeter is contained, but so far it’s charred 121 acres.

Union Interagency Hotshots crewman Calvin “Cal” Bowers told mourners gathered Thursday at the Roza Center for the Performing Arts in Houghton, Michigan, that his friendship with Hagan blossomed over chain saws.

They were rookies on the Grayback Forestry 3-Bravo crew, and Hagan was a sawman who loved a sharp set of teeth biting through wood.

“The fire guys here will know what I’m talking about, but there is something so alluring about saws,” Bowers said. “Collin can literally chat for hours about all things chain saw. And he did many times.”

big swamp fire

Members of the Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew conduct a bell ceremony during a memorial service for fallen firefighter Collin Hagan in Houghton, Michigan, on Aug. 18, 2022. Still from a Bureau of Land Management video.

After toiling for two fire seasons with Grayback Forestry, Hagan took his infectious love of chain saws to Montana’s Flathead National Forest for another two years. This season, he was working out of Craig, Colorado.

But through all those years, he also dreamed about data.

Andrew Storer, the interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Michigan Technical University, recalled Hagan as an undergrad who had devoted himself to walking the “tough road” to earn a degree in forestry science, with a focus on managing wildland fires.

During the service, Storer turned to a passage in an essay Hagan wrote about the adventure of forestry.

big swamp fire

Michigan firefighters pay tribute to fallen Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew member Collin Hagan, who died battling Oregon's Big Swamp Fire on Aug. 10, 2022. Bureau of Land Management photo.

“‘Data collection is part of the fun. That’s where the adventure comes in, of entering different stands, measuring different trees, exploring the great unknown. In a way, sometimes working does not seem like work when a forester is on the job site loving what they do,’” Storer read.

Collin James O. Hagan was born July 20, 1995, in Hancock, Michigan, to Shawn and Jeanmarie (née Militello) Hagan.

He is survived by his parents and his sister, Emily.

He was buried Friday in the Woodland Cemetery of Winona, Michigan, following a Mass at the Holy Family Catholic Church of South Range.

Read Next: On the Front Lines of the McKinney Fire: Battling a Breeze-Blown Blaze

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

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