Members of the Idaho National Guard on Sunday mourned fellow soldiers believed to be among the four people killed when a cabin caught on fire at Tamarack Resort in Donnelly on Friday night.
An adult man and woman were killed in the fire, and two children also died, officials said Saturday. One man, 46-year-old William Smith, of Boise, survived and was taken to a nearby hospital.
Guard spokesman Maj. Chris Borders declined to identify the guard member or members who died; however, a news release from the Valley County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday said that William Smith, who friends say went by “Mitch,” identified the victims as his wife, Erin Smith, 39; their friend James Harper III, 49; and two juveniles. The Smiths and Harper are Boise residents.
Autopsies for all of the individuals killed in the blaze are scheduled for Monday morning. Idaho State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl on Saturday told the Statesman that a propane fireplace in the large cabin could be the cause of the fire. Officials did not suspect any foul play.
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Erin Smith made national headlines last year as one of the first female tank crew members in the U.S., and co-workers remember her as a “trailblazer.”
“I’m sure there’s not a young woman in the National Guard that doesn’t look to Erin as a role model,” said fellow guardsman Noah Siple.
Siple, who said he was shocked to hear about the fatal fire, described Erin Smith as someone who wanted to break down barriers for other soldiers.
“It wasn’t for her own limelight,” he said.
Siple said Erin Smith and Harper were both senior leaders within the National Guard, deeply involved with many others in the organization.
Harper, he said, played a key role in bringing several memorials to Gowen Field, including one commemorating fallen soldiers.
“He really championed legacy, and there’s so many of us that want to memorialize Jim,” Siple said.
Trevor Rapp, who was deployed to Iraq with Erin Smith in 2004, said he heard about the fire through mutual friends. He recalled Erin as “an exceptional person and soldier.”
“She taught me how to be a competent soldier,” Rapp said. “She could make me laugh but raise me to the appropriate soldiering standards at the same time.”
Rapp said he’d heard similar stories from everyone who knew Erin.
“There’s so much that made up Erin’s personality. ... Even if we spoke all day I couldn’t say enough good things about her to paint a complete picture of who she was,” Rapp said.
Borders, the guard spokesman, said several guardsmen were in the area celebrating the Fourth of July holiday weekend together, though the gathering was not an official Idaho National Guard event.
“We’re just a close-knit organization,” Borders said. “These are people that work day in and day out together and then go overseas and do combat. To be spending time together on a holiday is pretty common.”
Borders said the guard is offering casualty assistance to the relatives of those killed in the fire.
“The guard is composed of over 4,000 people, and every one of those people are standing by to support the family and friends (of the victims),” Borders said.
He also said the public has been very concerned and supportive, something the families of the deceased appreciate.
Siple echoed Borders’ comments on community. He said the guard really focused on “removing barriers to being vulnerable with each other” — something that’s been helpful as guardsmen lean on one another to grieve.
“We’ll just start to live for them each day ... and be living memorials. We already have a culture of ‘never forget,’ ” Siple said. “Jim and Erin are two people we’ll always remember.”