SEATTLE — Okanogan Fire Department Assistant Chief Christian Johnson, who died Oct. 2 from injuries received in the Sept. 1 Spring Coulee Fire, was remembered as a caring individual who had a great outlook on life.
Johnson, 55, died at Harborview Medical Center, Seattle. His wife, Pam, other family and friends were with him, according to Okanogan County Emergency Management.
“He could always see a silver lining. That’s what made him so easy to like,” said friend and Okanogan Mayor Jon Culp. “He always had a smile on his face.”
In addition to volunteering on the Okanogan Fire Department for 20 years, Johnson worked as the building official for Okanogan, Tonasket and Oroville. He’d worked for Okanogan for more than 20 years, his tenure interrupted from November 2003 to May 2005 by a Washington National Guard deployment to Iraq.
He was retired from the Army and Washington National Guard. He was a sergeant in the Army.
“He was an outstanding person,” said Culp. As building official, “he was a great protector of the public’s interest. He did a fantastic job.”
Culp said Johnson was a great co-worker who was generous and kind “and would bend over backward” for people. “He would talk from a positive perspective, even if a person had a bad attitude.”
He said the building code “is a complex animal and it’s tough to know (it) well,” and Johnson did, the mayor said.
As a firefighter, Johnson was a mentor to younger recruits.
“He would explain and show young recruits how to be a fireman and a decent human being,” Culp said. “He touched a lot of people.”
Johnson also was an avid fisherman.
Dozens of people left comments and condolences on The Chronicle and Okanogan County Emergency Management’s social media pages.
“He will be truly missed,” wrote Audra Levine-Fuller. “We loved this guy so much; a true honest, solid person. We spoke to him often as he was the city inspector for Tonasket.”
“Prayers for his wife and family,” wrote Aaron Vinton. “Okanogan has lost a great man. He put his life in harm’s way to make the rest of us safe. Thank you and may God hold you in His arms and keep you safe now.”
“My condolences to his friends, family and colleagues at the Okanogan Fire Department,” wrote Jeff Moses.
“Rest in peace, Christian,” wrote Richard Braman. “You were such a great part of all our communities in the Okanogan. You will be missed. Peace to your family during this unthinkable time.”
“So sorry for all our loss but especially to his family,” wrote Dan Boettger. “He was a protector in so many ways. A dear friend and flyfisher. His love for those that surrounded him and the activities he enjoyed will be missed.”
“I will truly miss his many stories of fishing, his trips to Alaska, and the advice whenever a building question came up that needed clarity,” wrote Greg Bennett. “You were a great soul and friend. RIP brother.”
Hilary Franz, state commissioner of public lands, also expressed her condolences.
“Everyone at DNR is holding the family of Assistant Chief Christian Johnson in our hearts,” she said. “Christian, an Army veteran and a member of Okanogan County Fire District 3, is a hero.
“I cannot imagine how difficult and heart-wrenching this time has been for his family. Even though Christian was not a DNR firefighter, we consider him one of our own, and his family, friends, and colleagues are in our prayers.”
“We lost a brave man yesterday,” said Gov. Jay Inslee on Oct. 3. “Christian Johnson was not only a husband and a veteran, but he selflessly and bravely served as a firefighter on the front lines of the Spring Coulee Fire that eventually took his life.”
Other people weighed in, via a gofundme.com account set up for Johnson right after the fire. Several people with Cal Fire, the California state firefighting agency, made donations and expressed their condolences.
“On behalf of your brothers at Cal Fire St. Helena Station 26. Rest in peace,” wrote Gino Degraffenreid.
A memorial service, open to the public, is planned for Oct. 24 at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex. Details are not yet available.
Behind the Badge, a group that provides support to law enforcement agencies, families and communities after a law enforcement officer has died or suffered serious injuries in the line of duty, is coordinating the service.
Prior to that, Johnson’s ashes will be returned to Okanogan by the Okanogan Fire Department. That’s tentatively planned for this Saturday, Oct. 12.
Johnson sustained burns over 60 percent of his body in the Sept. 1 fire, which burned around 142 acres in the area of B&O, Spring Coulee and Fletcher Loop roads southwest of Okanogan. He was airlifted from the scene to Harborview, where he underwent several graft surgeries.
The state Department of Natural Resources, assisted by Detective Kreg Sloan of the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, is investigating the fire’s cause and how Johnson was injured.
Although the investigation has been ongoing for the past month, DNR officials said they expect it to run a few more weeks.
Sheriff Tony Hawley said DNR has found a point of origin; the cause is being investigated. The sheriff’s office investigation is centering on whether any criminal activity was involved.
Okanogan County Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall said Johnson’s family is grateful for the loving care he received from Harborview Medical Center staff, and the unwavering support they received from the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters Burn Foundation. They appreciate all the prayers and support they received.
Memorials are suggested to the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters Burn Foundation, Washington Wildland Fire Foundation or the Red Cross.
Community members, firefighters and military nationwide, friends and family have rallied to help the Johnsons.
Samaritan Riders Okanogan will host a memorial ride to honor Johnson at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, starting at Walmart, 902 Engh Road. Proceeds will go to his family.
Proceeds from Okanogan Chamber of Commerce’s pig feed Saturday, Oct. 12, will go to Johnson’s family. The feed starts at noon during Okanogan Harvest Festival on Second Avenue and side streets.
Omak Elks Lodge will have a spaghetti dinner and auction at 6 p.m. Nov. 23 at the lodge, 110 S. Ash St., to honor Johnson’s memory. Admission is by donation.
The event includes an auction. Donated auction items and baked goods are sought. Donations may be arranged by contacting Donna Dahlquist, 509-557-2192.
A gofundme.com account, titled Donations for Assistant Chief Christian Johnson, had raised $36,755 from 509 donors as of Monday, Oct. 7. The goal was $15,000.
An account also has been set up at North Cascades Bank’s Okanogan branch.
Omak Volunteer Fire Department donated Friday proceeds from its Okanogan County Fair ice cream booth, plus donations from the public.
Family and friends urge people to make blood donations in Johnson’s name through the American Red Cross.