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Smokejumper deployed to Alabama dies 1 month after fall on Birmingham's Southside

by Carol Robinson |

Smokejumper deployed to Alabama dies 1 month after fall on Birmingham's Southside

A federal smokejumper deployed to Alabama to help battle last month's wildfires throughout the southern region has died following a fall on Birmingham's Southside.

Ray Fernandez Rubio, 52, was a longtime smokejumper with the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon and one of many sent to help battle the drought-fueled blazes. He was injured Nov. 22 when he was walking back to his hotel from a restaurant in the Five Points South area, said Jefferson County Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates.

It was just before midnight when Rubio was walking alone in the 2100 block of 11th Avenue South. Friends have said he had completed his most recent smokejumping assignment and was about to return to Oregon.

Authorities said he fell over a concrete railing into a parking garage that was one story below ground level. Yates said Rubio fell 12 to 15 feet, suffering a head injury and a broken knee. It wasn't immediately clear how he was found, but he was taken to Grandview Medical Center because UAB Hospital was on trauma diversion.

Rubio, a husband and father, remained in the Intensive Care Unit until he died at 5:45 p.m. Monday. Yates said forestry officials have had a support team in Alabama to help Rubio's family during his hospital stay.

Rubio was a specially-trained firefighter who would parachute into wildfires to battle them from within. According to a GoFundMe account, which has raised nearly $34,000, Rubio served in the U.S. Army as a member of the 82nd Airborne. He worked for the federal government for more than 25 years.

"During this time, Ray has been an influential and admirable leader in the fire community, developing connections and mentoring firefighters from Alaska to Alabama and on,'' his friend wrote on the fundraising site.

Rubio began his career as a smokejumper in Redmond, Oregon in 1995. "Smokejumpers are a tight community, spending long hours together on assignments, for weeks at a time. And Ray is involved deeply in all aspects of smokejumping,'' the GoFundMe reads. "Ray remains invaluable to his coworkers and friends, on the fire line and off the clock. He is the person who shows up every day; ready to go anywhere he is needed, and takes on the most challenging tasks. He is a committed and caring father. He is a close friend to countless smokejumpers and members of the wildland firefighter community."