Above: Roadside memorial for Chief Gary Helming who was killed in a vehicle accident near this location August 31, 2017. Photo by John Szalay, September 17, 2017.
(Originally published at 10:38 a.m. MDT September 25, 2017)
Gary Helming, a Battalion Chief with the Los Padres National Forest in southern California, was returning from a wildfire on the Sierra National Forest when a Ford F-350 traveling in the opposite direction suffered a tire failure, crossed the middle of the road, and struck his vehicle head-on. Chief Helming was killed and the other driver, Antonio Avalos of Santa Maria, was airlifted to a hospital.
The accident occurred on Highway 41 just south of state Route 33 in Kings County, California.
Chief Helming had been released the previous evening from the Railroad Fire on the Sierra National Forest.
John Szalay took the above photos September 17, 2017 of the memorial that has developed near the accident site. He said it is on State Route 41 less than two miles south of State Route 33. There are large turnouts on both sides of the road in case others would like to stop and pay their respects, he said.
Chief Helming started out as a seasonal firefighter and spent 22 years with the U.S. Forest Service. During his career, he also worked with the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service but returned to the USFS in 2013. He was stationed in Santa Maria as Battalion Chief with the Los Padres National Forest. His wife, Andrea, has served as Air Tanker Base Manager for the agency at Santa Maria. They have three children.
On January 21, 2015 Chief Helming was honored by the Santa Maria Elks Lodge as Outstanding Firefighter of the Year for Los Padres National Forest’s Santa Lucia Ranger District.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to John.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.