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HOLDEN - Spencer Koyle was a teenager the first time he was caught in a fire. That was in Kanosh, when a friend poured fuel in a badger hole then lit it, not knowing the hole led to the cave Koyle was in.
Koyle and another friend escaped the cave, but not without burns on much of their bodies. Koyle went on to become a wildland firefighter.
On Thursday, Koyle was caught in a fire again.
"When they couldn't find him yesterday, I kept thinking he'll come out because he came out of the cave," said Koyle's mother, Sue Koyle, fighting tears.
Spencer Koyle, 33, died Thursday in a wildfire east of Oak City.
"He loved fighting fires," said his wife, Nichole Koyle, with whom he had three children, "but I know he loved us more. It was OK for him to go because he was always here."
Spencer Koyle was one of about 40 firefighters responding to the Devil's Den fire. Firefighters were worried the blaze would reach homes in Oak City.
Federal authorities are investigating the death. Many details of what happened were not disclosed Friday.
One spokeswoman for the Interagency Fire Center said Koyle was fighting a spot fire - a small blaze that has escaped the wildfire's main body. But another representative said Koyle was not fighting a fire but scouting the blaze to determine where to place more firefighters. Koyle was supervising at least some of the firefighters.
"What he told them before they split up for their assignments was 'keep your head up and be safe,' '' said Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker said.
Dekker said winds shifted, increasing the fire's intensity and pushing it in a new direction. Lookouts placed above the fire warned firefighters to evacuate the area.
It appeared Koyle was running alongside the mountain trying to escape the flames, Dekker said. When flames overtook him, Koyle deployed his fire shelter, Dekker said.
It wasn't clear Friday whether Koyle was able to wrap himself in the shelter. Even if he did, the devices are not meant to withstand flames.
No one else was injured. The fire has now blackened 338 acres. Firefighters were on scene Friday but did not fight the blaze, said fire information officer Andi Falsetto.
Firefighters on Friday said it was not threatening any structures.
Koyle was raised in Kanosh, where his father was a volunteer firefighter. He met his wife Nichole when they attended Millard High School. He took the now-Nichole Koyle to her junior prom three days after being burned in the cave, his family said.
He joined the Bureau of Land Management 15 years ago and became a fire operations supervisor, where he helped coordinate fighting wildfires.
"It wasn't so much that he was a supervisor or a boss," said Scott Monroe, a wildland firefighter from Holden, "when he watched out for us it was as friends."
Spencer and Nichole Koyle had three children together, ages 7, 4 and 18 months. Family gathered Friday at the Koyle's home in Holden.
Koyle also served as a Boy Scout master in Holden. Koyle's mother-in-law, Linda Nixon, recalled Friday how he made about 15 Scouts sign their names to contracts saying they would become Eagle Scouts by certain dates or they would shave their heads.
When a few boys didn't make the dates, Nixon said, Koyle arrived at a scout meeting with scissors and clippers.
"Spencer said, 'Your name means something,' '' Nixon said.
The death has come in the midst of what has been a busy wildfire season for Millard County.
The community of Cove Fort has been evacuated twice this summer, including for one blaze that closed Interstate 15. Parts of Oak City and Fillmore also have been evacuated for short stretches.
The Eastern Great Basin Coordination Center says 250,000 acres have burned in Utah this year as of Aug. 2. In 2005, about 314,000 acres burned in Utah.
Nichole Koyle said plans are underway for memorial services Wednesday in Holden.