Submitted by her mother
Karen Lee FitzPatrick‚ 18 years old‚ was just three weeks out of high school. She had graduated on June 8‚ 2001 from West Valley High School in Yakima‚ WA. Karen was known for her dazzling smile‚ contagious laughter and ‘the most beautiful eyes in the world!’ She was also a member of the prestigious Honor Society and a noteworthy weight-lifter. She was known for her artistic and musical talents as well as her fabulous singing voice. In her younger years‚ 1990-1994‚ Karen was quite the muscular and quick soccer champion with her team‚ The Bobcats. She and the Bobcats won the American Cup in Seattle in 1994. What people knew most prominently about Karen was her dynamic faith in her Lord Jesus Christ that shone from her face and from her life like a bright shining beacon. Karen was a fountain of life to all who knew her! In two different places on the wall of her room was handwritten‚ ‘Jesus‚ help me to love you with my life.’ In this‚ she succeeded greatly.
Karen’s walls are covered with inspirational posters and wise sayings. Her friends sometimes still ask to visit and view them. Here is a sample: ‘In God‚ understanding becomes a state of heart rather than an achievement of the mind.’ The calendar in Karen’s room or ‘Karen Street’ is frozen on the month of July 2001. Her keys are on the table and her comfy shoes are sitting out. One would think that she may walk in at any moment. On her bulletin board are dates to remember‚ friends’ photos and a few more scriptures and sayings. Here are a few samples: ‘Make no little plans‚ as they have no magic to stir men’s blood’. D. Burnham‚ Chicago Architect. ‘Holiness is not a feeling – it is the end product of obedience.’ Here is another‚ ‘Purity is not a gift – it is the result of repentance and a serious pursuit of God.’
Karen had an odd premonition beforehand that she would die. About twenty minutes before the blow up‚ she lifted her camera above her head and with a big smile took her own photo. She had looked up to God thinking‚ ‘See you soon!’ She did.
Eyewitnesses know that Karen died on her knees in her fire shelter‚ praying with the other three firefighters who perished alongside her. They were Jessica Johnson‚ 19‚ Devin Weaver‚ 21 and Tom Craven‚ 30. She also cried out for the safety of those down below on the road. They did live. Karen and her three brave firefighter comrades died from smoke inhalation at 5:30pm on July 10‚ 2001. From the blowup originating at their location of death‚ a huge cloud formed above them‚ known as the Thirtymile Fire Cloud. At the top of this cloud are four linear steps‚ so it is also called the Stairway to Heaven picture.
The site where this episode occurred in the Chewuch River Canyon in Winthrop‚ WA is now a national monument. At the visitor’s center on Highway 20 before entering the monument‚ visitors can obtain a color brochure with the aforementioned photo on the front and biographies of the four who perished inside. There is also a map of how to navigate to the site located on West Chewuch Road. Karen will always be known as the girl who prayedespecially at that moment‚ for the others. The monument to her gravesite bears an etching of the stair-step cloud with a poem entitled ‘The Sign in the Cloud’. This monument can be viewed at West Hills memorial park in Yakima‚ WA. There are also life size bronze busts of the four firefighters in a memorial park in front of the Naches Ranger station on Highway 12‚ Naches‚ WA. This is where they were based out of and friends who work there still remember them.
It has been learned from USFS service records and National Fallen Firefighter of America sources‚ that at the time of her death‚ Karen was the youngest female career firefighter to ever die in the line of duty in America.
Those interested can learn more about Karen L. FitzPatrick from these sources: ‘Medal of Valor Firefighters’‚ by Michael Middleton‚ MacGraw-Hill Publishers (Chapter 16) or ‘Fire in the Canyon’ by John Maclean‚ to be released Spring 2006‚ Holt Publishers. Internet sources: www.lastalarm.org. Click on North Cascades Fire 07/10/01 and then on Karen L. FitzPatrick.