Wildfire Pilot Survives Tanker Crash

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

WINNEMUCCA, Nev. – A firefighting pilot was rescued after his small air tanker crashed in northern Nevada while he battled one of the dozens of wildfires tormenting the West, officials said Wednesday.

The AT-802A single-engine tanker was fighting a blaze south of Winnemucca when it went down Tuesday evening, said Jamie Thompson, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The rescued pilot was pulled from the wreckage by firefighters, treated at a hospital and later released, he said.

“Other than being pretty well soaked with slurry and aviation fuel, he was OK,” Thompson said. “They cleaned him up and sent him home.”

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Officials said the plane was under contract from Minuteman Aerial Applications out of Montana. An investigation team was expected to determine the cause of the crash, Thompson said.

Across the West, the extreme dry weather and wind have spread wildfires and made fighting them difficult. The National Interagency Fire Center reported 68 large fires burning Wednesday in 12 states, led by Nevada, Oregon and Idaho.

In southwest Reno, 400 homes were on alert due to gusty erratic winds fanning an 1,800-acre fire burning in protected wilderness in a national forest northeast of Lake Tahoe.

“In a sense you feel like we’re under assault from Mother Nature right now,” Thompson said.

In Southern California, residents in Santa Barbara County wind country were able to return to their homes late Tuesday after crews set backfires to keep at bay a large wilderness fire that had burned nearly 44 square miles.

Officials cautioned that the weather was still volatile and the terrain in the mountains of the Santa Ynez Valley was tough to work in.

“It could jump the ridgeline, but we’re working to keep it back and we’re monitoring Santa Ana winds,” said Rick Todd, a battalion chief with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

In Northern California, overnight drizzle helped firefighters battling flames that threatened more than 300 homes in and around Happy Camp near the Oregon border. The fire was about 15 percent surrounded.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a wildfire emergency in her state, freeing state agencies to spend money to help local firefighting efforts. The National Guard and Washington State Guard could also be mobilized if necessary.

One lightning-sparked blaze in north-central Washington near the Canadian border was threatening 145 homes but only a few had been ordered to evacuate.

On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov

A service of the Associated Press(AP)