Wildfire news, August 7, 2008

Fatal helicopter crash

UPDATE @ 10:15 a.m., August 7

The LA Times has information from one of the survivors.

One of the survivors, Richard Schroeder, 42, said in a phone interview from his hospital room in Redding that it seemed that the helicopter’s rotor hit a tree as it was taking off. 

A father of five from Medford, Ore., Schroeder said someone behind him screamed for everyone to put their heads under their legs. “He was looking out the window and saw something,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder’s stomach dropped as the helicopter pitched forward and plummeted. He blacked out on impact and came to with a body on him, he said. He shoved the body off and saw that the tail of the aircraft was on fire. His mouth was bleeding heavily and he could barely breathe. He said he thought, “I’m not dying here,” and unbuckled himself and kicked out a partially broken window. He wiggled his way outside. Men above screamed at him to scramble up the slope.

The helicopter exploded as he watched from above. “I was totally shocked,” he said. “I lost all my friends.”

Schroeder sustained serious injuries to his neck, shoulder and back. He did not suffer any burns, he said.

Another crew on the ground waiting to be shuttled out alerted base camp about the crash, and rescue crews were immediately dispatched to the scene, authorities said.


Schroeder said the crew was being transported back for rest because clouds were rolling in and they expected heavy lightning strikes. He said they were the third group to go out from that spot on Tuesday.

9:13 a.m.

Not much additional information is available about the crash of the S-61 helicopter with 13 on board. HERE is a link to a video report from KSEE News in Fresno. It has file photos of the three injured firefighters from Grayback Forestry.

Here is an excerpt of a Sacramento Bee story in which spokesman Bob Madden of Carson Helicopters in Grants Pass and Tom Karroll of the U.S. Forest Service describe the accident.

The helicopter crashed near the north edge of the large wildland fire. The craft was taking 10 firefighters and the Forest Service official out of the fire zone.

Both pilots had at least 10,000 hours of experience, he said.

On Tuesday, the helicopter had shuttled crews in and out of the fire zone and landed several times at Helicopter Spot 44, where the crash occurred, said Forest Service spokesman Tom Karroll.

“It’s at 1,800 feet (elevation) in very steep country, the Salmon Trinity Alps primitive area,” he said. “As it loaded up and the people had put on their seat belts, it didn’t have a successful liftoff.”

The helicopter caught fire after hitting the ground, Madden said. “Two other company choppers responded to the mayday (emergency call) and dropped water on the ground around the burning aircraft.”

Memorial service for Dan Packer

The service for Chief Packer who died on the Panther fire will be today in Federal Way, Washington. The funeral procession will begin at 11:30 a.m. and is expected to involve 200 fire trucks and police cars.

More lightning in northern California

More than 1,000 lightning strikes hit the area on Tuesday night, starting at least 26 new fires in Shasta County.

Secretary of Homeland Security tours NIFC

From the Idaho Statesman:

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff hails from New Jersey and seemed a little unfamiliar with Idaho on his first visit to the state Wednesday while touring the National Interagency Fire Center. 

“Thanks to Gov. Otter for his hospitality,” he said, looking at Lt. Gov. Jim Risch during a press conference.

Chertoff, along with Interior Secretary and former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, were in Boise to learn about the NIFC, which coordinates national firefighting efforts. While Idaho has had almost no fire activity this year, California has seen a slew of wildfires tear through that state, destroying homes and prompting mass evacuations.

The presidential cabinet members also toured the Wildland Firefighters Monument, while secret service agents and bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the grounds.

Smoke in California

The heavy smoke created by the fires in northern California has prompted Governor Schwarzenner to declare a state of emergency in 12 counties.

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