Wisconsin: fire spotter plane crashes, killing pilot

The Associated Press and the FAA are reporting that an airplane observing a wildland fire crashed Wednesday at about 2:28 p.m. near Cary, Wisconsin, killing the pilot, the only person on board. Firefighters were working a fire on the ground as the plane observed from the air. The crash occurred in a field near the fire.

The plane, a twin-engine Cessna 337 Skymaster was owned by the state and leased to the Department of Natural Resources.   The name of the pilot has not been released.

WSAW-TV in Wausau reported on its Web site that a witness at the scene, Richard Luther, said he was in his car near the wildfires when he saw the plane circling. Luther said it made three circles and on the fourth circle it became low and dove into the ground.  Mr. Luther was about 300-400 feet from the scene when the plane crashed.

We will update this story as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 7:20 p.m. April 8, 2009

The pilot has been identified as Heath Van Handel, 36, a DNR employee since 2006.  Before that he was a commercial pilot and flight instructor at Kansas State University.

Wildfire news, March 24, 2009

Salem, NC fatality

From the International Association of Wildland Fire’s FireNet:

IAWF has received notice of the following wildland firefighter fatality from the US Fire Administration:

Name: Gregory Carroll Cooke
Rank: Firefighter
Age: 60
Gender: Male
Status: Volunteer
Years of Service: 20
Date of Incident: 02/20/2009
Time of Incident: Unknown, late in the week of 03/16/09
Date of Death: 03/21/2009
Fire Department: Salem Volunteer Fire Department
Address: 4559 Swift Creek School RD, Whitakers, NC 27891
Fire Department Chief: Paul Powell

Incident Description: Late in the week of 03/16/09, Firefighter Cooke was working at a woods fire when he went into cardiac arrest. He was transported by air to the Wake Medical Center in Raleigh, NC. On Saturday, 3/21/09, Firefighter Cooke passed away.

Our condolences for Mr. Cooke’s family and co-workers.

Three charged with arson in setting East Texas fires

From Chron.com:

Three Eastland County residents have been charged with five counts of arson and one count of organized criminal activity in connection with a series of West Texas wildfires that destroyed five structures in Eastland and Callahan counties.

The Texas Forest Service said in a statement Monday that Christina Utley, 20, of Ranger, Brian Freeman, 23, and Michael Thomas, 24, both of Cisco, were being held at the Eastland County Jail on bails totaling $87,500. A jail official said Monday night he did not know whether the three, who were arrested Sunday, had attorneys.

Forestry officials said the three were initially arrested for fighting and public intoxication but the investigation turned to Sunday’s deliberately set fires after Cisco Police Department found suspicious items in their vehicle.

Forestry officials were still fighting the blazes that had burned at least 270 acres.

San Diego replaces their reverse 911 system

After the Cedar and other large fires near San Diego in 2007 there were some complaints that the reverse 911 system that calls thousands of phone numbers in an emergency did not perform as well as expected. Earlier this month the city of San Diego switched from the “Reverse 9-1-1” system to a new system the city calls “AlertSanDiego” powered by Twenty First Century Communications. Home phones are automatically registered, but the mayor is advising owners of cell phones and Voice over IP (VoIP) phones to register them at the city’s web site.

Senator Udall introduces bill to divert fines to land management agencies

Senator Mark Udall has introduced a bill that would redirect funds that are collected for illegally damaging public lands to the federal agencies that are responsible for restoring the damage. Currently fines are simply deposited into the U.S. Treasury, but if someone pays a fine for starting a fire, for example, the bill would specify that the funds go to the agency on whose land the fire occurred.

Opinion on bushfire management in Australia

A speech made by John Underwood about the management of bushfires in Australia may also have some applicability in much of the rest of the world. You should read the entire text HERE, but here is one paragraph:

The catastrophic bushfires in Victoria this year, and the other great fires of recent years in Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT and South Australia are dramatic expressions not just of killing forces unleashed, but of human folly. No less than the foolish strategies of the World War I Generals, these bushfires and their outcomes speak of incompetent leadership and of failed imaginations. Most unforgivable of all, they demonstrate the inability of people in powerful and influential positions to profit from the lessons of history and to heed the wisdom of experience.

Firefighter close call, manure pit

From FirefighterCloseCalls:

A Firefighter battling a grass fire in northern New York fell into a manure pit and was rescued from possible drowning. Depauville FD recruit Kevin Zoll saved the 6-year veteran Ernest Ross on Friday at a farm in Clayton. Ross was cutting across a field toward a building where flames were spreading when he fell into an unmarked manure pit….it was covered with straw and looked like the field. FF Zoll crawled to the edge of the pit, reached out with a broom handle and pulled Ross in. Ross says that saved his life, than in a few minutes he would have been submerged. Dry and windy conditions led to multiple calls about grass fires.

Thanks Dick.

Missouri LODD

The Kansas City Star is reporting that a firefighter from the Odessa, Missouri fire department collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack while fighting a vegetation fire, Saturday March 15.  Lt. Roger Vorwark, 49, was a five-year veteran of the Odessa Fire and Rescue Protection Division.  He was treated at the scene, then transported by helicopter to a hospital in Independence where he was pronounced dead.

When funeral arrangements are complete they will be announced HERE.

Our condolences to the family and fellow firefighters.

Helicopter pilot killed in Kansas crash

We just received this message from Nate, one of our readers:

Great site, its my source for breaking news every morning.

I wanted to report to you that Roger Hershner, a long-time fire helicopter pilot was killed in Kansas yesterday, March 8. He was ferrying a helicopter from Hillcrest Aircraft Co. in Lewiston, ID to Virginia to start a USFS contract in Virginia. Not much info as to cause is available yet.  He refueled in Ogalala, Nebraska and was enroute to Topeka, Kansas when he crashed.

Roger most recently has flown the joint Santa Fe/Musselshell Exclusive use contract in R3/R1. He also flew the Grangeville Exclusive use contract, and several other contracts in the southern region. He was employed by Hillcrest for about 5 years. He has been flying contract helicopters for the USFS for about 30 years, maybe more.

KSALLink.com and the AP have stories.

Our condolences to Mr. Hershner’s family and co-workers.

Oklahoma firefighter dies while fighting fire

firefighter John Adams
Firefighter John Adams; photo: KJRH

John Adams, a firefighter with the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department in Oklahoma collapsed and stopped breathing around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. Friday while working on a vegetation fire near Mannford. Mr. Adams, who had been with the Silver City FD for five years, had been fighting the fire for several hours.

He leaves behind a wife and three children.

The 1,000 acre fire is believed to have been started by an arsonist. Three fires were set within a mile of each other, minutes apart.

Our condolences go out to the family and the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department.

Australian firefighter killed by falling tree

A firefighter in Australia was killed when a tree fell onto a fire apparatus on February 17. The firefighter from the Australian Capital Territories Fire Brigade died on the scene while a second firefighter in the truck was unhurt, according to commissioner Greg Manson of the ACT Emergency Service Agency.

The accident occurred at Cambarville, just east of Marysville in Yarra Ranges National Park. This is the first emergency worker to die in this rash of bushfires that began on what is now known as “Black Saturday”, February 7.

Marysville suffered great losses in the fires, with 39 confirmed dead and most of the structures being wiped out. Nationwide, the death toll has risen to 200; that figure is expected to rise as more bodies are found.