Volunteer fire fighter dies when smothered by thick smoke

A volunteer fire fighter from Atenas has died after being trapped in a wooded area filled with dense smoke.

Death probably was caused by suffocation, said the Cuerpo de Bomberos.

A second fireman has been hospitalized after being overcome by smoke battling the same forest blaze, the fire fighters said.

The dead man was identified as Andrés Cruz Castro, a music teacher with three children.

At the Clinica de Turrubares was  Martín Ortega Zúñiga, who works out of the Santa Ana fire station.

Fire officials said that five companions tried to get the dying man and his companion out of the smoke-filled area. Topography was a problem.

The blaze has consumed at least 300 hectares in Cerro Tárcoles en Turrubares. That is about 740 acres of trees and underbrush. Fire officials said they believed that the blaze was set by humans, although they did not rule out an accident like a campfire getting out of control.

Fire officials said they believe that Cruz was trapped when a strong wind caused a covering of vegetation to burst into flame and generate thick smoke.

Services for the dead fireman will be at 3 p.m. today in Atenas. Like his 918 fellow fire fighters, both paid and volunteer, Cruz is covered by a death and accident policy donated by the Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

There are brush and forest fires all over dry Costa Rica, and officials have issued a warning to vacationers to avoid outdoor fires because the strong wind can whip a tiny blaze into a major event.

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