Friends Mourn 8 Firefighters Killed in Oregon

It ended with a puff of black smoke on a remote road in Oregon.

Eight men — best friends and firefighters — all dead in a fiery crash as they returned from battling forest fires.

They were killed Sunday when their van slammed into a tractor-trailer during an overtaking manouver. The team of contract firefighters was returning home to Oregon after two weeks of fighting fires in a remote region of Idaho wilderness.

Today, their crew chief and friend Justin Krueger described the helplessness he felt at the crash scene. He was traveling in a separate van when they lost radio contact with one of the vehicles.

Deadly Crash

"When we looked back, we saw some black smoke coming up from the valley, and we immediately turned around," Jeff Krueger told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "By the time we got to the scene, it was too late."

In all, the crash killed eight men: Jeff Hengel, 20, of Roseburg, Ore., Ricardo "Ricky" Ruiz, 19, of Roseburg; Mark Ransdell, 23, of Myrtle Creek; Jesse James, 22, of Roseburg; David Hammer, 38, of Portland; Leland Price Jr., 27, of Roseburg; Paul Gibson, 25, of Myrtle Creek; and Richard B. Moore II, 21, of Portland.

Sharing nicknames like "Ogre" and "M.C. Hammer," they were as close as brothers, Krueger said.

"It's just a group of guys that get together, and they're young and old, and they believe in each other, and they work 12, 15 hours a day together all day long, and they trust each other just like soldiers," said Bob Krueger, Jeff's father and the president of First Strike Environmental, the company which employed the eight men.

Standing 6' 6'' tall, Jeff Hengel was playfully known as "Ogre." But he was also a respected community leader who lived with and helped care for his ailing father. He passed up the chance to play football in high school, and worked as a firefighter to pay his way through cooking school.

"I didn't get to say goodbye," said Hengel's mother. "We always said I love you, but I can't say goodbye."

At 38, David Hammer was the oldest on the crew. His habit of dancing on the fire line earned him the nickname "M.C. Hammer," after the '90s rap performer. Jeff Krueger said that Leland Price often lagged behind the other members of the crew when they climbed hills, and the crew would tease him by calling out "The Price is wrong." But when reached the top of the hill, Price would scream "Price Is Right!"

"Our group that we had was very tight," said Jeff Krueger. "You couldn't get a tighter group."

ABCNEWS Correspondent Taina Hernandez contributed to this report.