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As fallen firefighter is laid to rest, family members pledge to help each other through grief

PROVO — Monica Brinkerhoff felt overwhelming heartache after her brother was killed fighting California's largest wildfire on record. But a sense of gratitude also settled in quickly, she said at his burial Monday.

"Thank you for showing us how to live," she told her brother, Matt Burchett, the 42-year-old Draper battalion chief known as a hard worker with a mischievous side who led by example.

At his final homecoming, Brinkerhoff said those her brother leaves behind will remember to breathe and hold each other up when grief envelops them like a dark fog. They will serve others and find joy in the ordinary moments, as he did, she said.

"We will feel an ever so subtle sense of peace, of comfort," she said, knowing her brother's presence "will never leave our hearts."

Brinkerhoff joined other family members, friends and Burchett's fellow firefighters in turning her eyes skyward as helicopters flew overhead in her brother's memory and flags flew at half-staff Monday.

Eight of Burchett's colleagues folded an American flag that had been draped over the casket in a solemn ceremony on a Provo hillside at Eastlawn Memorial Hills Cemetery. Burchett's helmet could be seen resting at the foot of the casket.

Though the interment was closed to the public, family members requested it be broadcast so that firefighters in Utah and outside the state could have a chance to watch. Burchett had battled wildland fires in California in the past, before the recent trip that claimed his life, they said.

Earlier in the day, following his funeral at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, hundreds of officers and firefighters from across Utah lined the arena and saluted their colleague's casket as it passed in front of the arena and was placed in a Draper City fire truck. Burchett's family members embraced many of those he worked with before the procession moved south on I-15 Monday afternoon.

Along the route to the ceremony, firefighters and others, many with their hands over their hearts, stood with American flags as they watched the procession from overpasses and on-ramps.

Heatherlyn Lohrke, a detective with Unified Police Department, watched the procession from an overpass at 4100 South in West Valley City. She said Burchett's death was a loss for her agency, too.

"It doesn't matter what badge we wear," Lohrke said. "When they suffer a loss, we suffer, too." She added that Utah's law enforcement community will support Burchett's loved ones.

"We're here whenever they need us," Lohrke said.

Utah Highway Patrol troopers on motorcycles led the procession to Provo, where fire engine ladders draped a giant American flag over the road. Utah Transit Authority busses brought many of Burchett's Unified Fire Authority colleagues the 40 miles to the cemetery.

In interviews shared Monday, friends and colleagues recalled Burchett as a "legend" in the wildland firefighting world.

Jon Finch said he tried to push Burchett's limits when he first went to work for him at Unified. But Finch said he now knows Burchett could read exactly what he was trying to do. He credited his late friend with setting his life on a good course, saying his relationship with his family and wife are so strong because of Burchett's example.

Other friends recalled fond memories of a fishing trip with Burchett, a novice fisherman, and his interactions with their children, who would light up when he spent time with them. Burchett at times wondered aloud whether he had stepped in areas of forests where no other human had ever set foot before during the course of his career fighting wildfires, they said.

"He taught me that respect was the most important thing," Finch said.

Many said it was clear just how much Burchett loved his wife, Heather, and that he had a keen intuition.

Talyse Francisconi, a friend of the family, said Burchett instinctively knew what his wife needed, even when she didn't know. She recalled Burchett taking care of the two friends on a trip they took to Mexico, at one point carrying both women's purses.

"Matt always watched out for you," she said, saying she hopes his young son Griffin knows that "his dad was one in a million."

Contributing: Alex Cabrero, Ladd Egan