Pilot Dies in Helicopter Crash Near “Hills Fire”

A relief pilot died in a single craft crash this morning (August 19) at approximately 10 AM south of Coalinga, near the Hills Fire. He was on a mission dropping water on the fire when the incident occurred.

During the last few days, six helicopters were being used to fight the blaze in rough terrain west of Avenal and south of Coalinga. as of Tuesday evening, approximately 1,500 acres had burned, with 35% contained. Along with the helicopters, there were also 17 engines, 19 dozers and 6 water tenders with 470 crew members working the fire.

The helicopter that crashed was a “Call When Needed” helicopter. When reports of the crash came out, air and ground resources went immediately to the area. The steep, rugged terrain, made efforts very difficult to reach the crash site. The craft that went down was a Bell UH-1H.

Crash started another small fire close in proximity to the main fire about 50 acres. Burned into the existing hills fire. Resources in the area were able to control the new fire.

This afternoon Cal Fire crews led Fresno County Sheriff’s Officers to the crash site. The name of the pilot has not yet been released.

Strong winds of up to 30 miles per hour have hampered the fire fighting efforts. A high pressure weather system has also made conditions more difficult according to another pilot who flew to Coalinga from northern California today.

There are 7,000 Cal Fire firefighters and throughout the group, there is a very low injury rate. This is the first major injury to a fire fighter or crew member in this area.

Also fighting the fire are inmate hand crews from California Department of Corrections. There are also Federal fire fighters from National Forest. Some hand crews that are also fire fighters who are “cross trained” to manage multiple types of fires.

Many crews work 24 hour shifts. Some get 12 hour shifts. Much of the current fire fighters are using Coalinga High School fields and Oscar’s Hub area for staging efforts.