VERNAL — Funeral services have been set for the man who spent nearly three decades overseeing the management of fire on the Ashley National Forest.
Ivan Erskine drowned June 28 while bodysurfing in the Pacific Ocean during a family vacation in Oceanside, Calif. Rescuers were able to revive him on the beach. He was taken to a hospital, but he never regained consciousness and died Monday.
Erskine was 63.
"His death is going to leave a hole, because he led from the front," said Chris Gamble, the forest fuels specialist for Ashley National Forest. "He was well-respected throughout the Forest Service."
Mary Wagner, associate chief of the Forest Service, can attest to that. She served as a district ranger on the Ashley forest from 1989 to 1995 and remembered Erskine as a "professional in every sense of the word."
"He made me feel like I had a lot to contribute," Wagner said. "It's his sharing of his experience, his expertise and his heart that will always define him. He grew talent in the organization and he treasured the people he worked with."
Erskine's first temporary Forest Service appointment was in 1968 on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada. He joined the agency fulltime in 1976 with an appointment to the Fishlake National Forest in Richfield.
In 1984, Erskine became the fire management officer for the Ashley, assuming responsibility for fighting wildfires and for using prescribed fire to improve the health of the forest. That was Gamble's first year on the Ashley as well.
"He had a passion for learning and for having his people learn from the past," Gamble said, referring to trips Erskine would organize to sites where people had died in wildfires so his crews could walk the ground and learn the lessons that had cost others their lives.
Erskine's contributions to fire management went well beyond the Ashley. He was an integral part of the fire community on the regional and national level, organizing training academies and serving as a member of several incident-management teams.
"He never compromised on safety or on doing what was right," Gamble said. "He inspired a lot of people."
At the time of his death, Erksine and his wife were vacationing in California with their four daughters, their sons-in-law and their grandchildren. It was only the second vacation Erskine had taken during the summer in all the years Gamble knew him. After all, summer is fire season.
But, Gamble said, the job was Erskine's second joy.
"His first joy was being with his family, taking care of them," Gamble said. "They were the center of his universe."
While Gamble is grieving his friend's death, he is grateful Erskine had the opportunity to spend his last days surrounded by family.
"Ivan had the satisfaction of knowing that his family was in a good place," he said. "He got to see the success that he and his wife were (as parents) and know that everything was right in his family."
Funeral services for Erskine are set for Monday at 2 p.m. at the Glines LDS Stake Center, 78 S. Aggie Blvd. in Vernal.