Hundreds gathered in downtown Fresno on Saturday morning to honor Brian Hughes, the firefighter who lost his life in the Ferguson Fire on July 29.
The 50-vehicle procession carrying Hughes’ body crossed through Inyo and M streets at 10 a.m. below a billowing American flag tied between two fire truck ladders.
Smoke hung thick in the summer sky, a sign that the fire Hughes lost his life battling is still raging in the nearby mountains.
Inside Valdez Hall, Hughes’ colleagues and family remembered him as dedicated, selfless, positive and hard-working.
The 33-year-old was a captain with the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots, a team of firefighters trained to go into the toughest, most high-risk fires. He lived in Squaw Valley in Fresno County. He was working on the east side of the fire when he was struck by a tree on July 29.
Before his death, Hughes was expecting a baby, due next February, with his fiancée, Paige Miller.
Hughes was looking forward to being a father, friends and family said. A GoFundMe page set up for Miller and the baby has raised more than $125,000 in four days.
“I will never forget the excitement when he told me he and Paige were having a baby,” sister Meriel Hughes said. “It breaks my heart that he will never experience fatherhood, but I am happy there will be a baby Hughes.”
Meriel Hughes said growing up in Hilo, Hawaii with her brother has left her with good memories. “We often only had exploring the woods around the house and going on adventures.”
Hughes played soccer growing up, and was awarded most inspirational athlete his senior year. He snowboarded and rode bikes as an adult.
Meriel Hughes said her brother bought a house in Squaw Valley after a recent fire season ended and set out to renovate it, doing most of the work himself. “I can’t tell you the number of times I saw him cooking or grilling with a drink in his hand,” she said. “The Brian I knew was relaxed and carefree.”
Harold “Magoo” Cook, Hughes’ friend and former supervisor, met Hughes in 2010, when they were part of a firefighting crew in Monterey.
He said Hughes lived with him, his wife and two sons for a time, where he became known as “Uncle Brian.”
“Brian became part of our family,” he said, and Cook remembers Hughes hung out with his kids, “played video games, bonfires in the backyard, watched cartoons. He loved the boys like they were his own and was incredibly excited to become a dad himself.”
Cook said when he wants to remember his friend, he will look out to the stars and at all the people he saved during his time as a firefighter.
“Brian you are my best friend and my brother,” he said. “I love you forever.”