Missing firefighters hiking in Yosemite found safe

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK (KFSN) -- A frightening ordeal for two Southern California firefighters after they didn't return from a backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park Sunday night. Both were found, safe, late Tuesday morning.

"One of them didn't show up for work on Monday, which even exacerbated the problem. And then no phone calls, no contact or anything," said Wolfgang Kinabe, Fullerton-Brea Fire Chief.

Chief Kinabe said both Javier Avilar and Dave Brown are experienced firefighters and backpackers. Avilar, a firefighter of around 25 years, and Brown have worked for the company for at least five years.

The search started Monday and intensified Tuesday morning.

"We had approximately 20 ground resources, a dog team as a separate team, and also air resources on standby," said Jaime Richards, Yosemite National Park Public Affairs Officer.

Late Tuesday morning park officials say Brown walked into a ranger station near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on his own. He was able to give search parties critical information about where Avilar might be. Crews narrowed their search and found Avilar in an area near Hetch Hetchy a short time later.

"We are thrilled with the results. We always, in a case of a search and rescue situation, are looking for this result. A positive result where both parties are able to come out uninjured," said Richards.

Chief Kinabe came up to Yosemite early Tuesday morning with six other Fullerton firefighters as well as some family members of Avilar and Brown. They were ecstatic when they heard the good news over the radio.

"We would have had people coming up here and changing shifts from now until the end of the year if we needed to until we got our people home," said Chief Kinabe.

No one knows for sure what happened yet, but we do know Avilar and Brown became separated at some point and survived on their own.

"Their knowledge, their experience, and their physical ability absolutely contributed to them coming back home," said Chief Kinabe.

Fullerton's fire chief said both of his men are still shaken up and tired but are in good health. They'll most likely be returning to Orange County Tuesday night.
Copyright © 2020 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.