CO, USA — A pilot was injured Wednesday when his single-engine air tanker assisting in battling one of at least 30 fires in northwestern Colorado crashed this afternoon in Rio Blanco County.
Rescue teams were in the process of evacuating the pilot from the downed aircraft, which was about 20 miles northwest of Meeker, Ricardo Zuniga, Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center spokesman, said. Authorities were trying to determine the condition of the pilot, but they described him as concious and mobile. His identity has not been released. The plane went down about 3 p.m., and investigators will determine what caused the aircraft to crash.
The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center is an inter-agency fire coordination agency that works with numerous fire agencies in several states, including Colorado.
The pilot was flying a single-engine air tanker and making an initial attack on the Flat Bush Fire northwest of Meeker, the spokesman said. The blaze may have been ignited by lightning late Tuesday, and firefighters were attempting to pounce on it on Wednesday morning before flames could spread further, according to the coordination center.
The Flat Bush Fire that charred several acres, and witnesses reported the blaze shortly before 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Since Sunday, thunderstorms have ignited at least 30 fires in Moffatt, Rio Blanco and Routt counties. Four of the fires have consumed about 33,450 acres, according to the coordination center.
Fire crews suffered a major setback in their battle against the Prong Fire about 23 miles northwest of Craig. Firefighters thought they had the flames fully contained but late Tuesday the blaze jumped the containment lines and grew several hundred acres.
The blaze now has increased to about 5,150 acres. Flames have burned sage brush and grass that are on Bureau of Land Management and private properties. Authorities were forced temporarily close Moffat County Road 8 before reopening it in the afternoon, officials said.
Firefighters still have their hands full with the 27,000-acre Mayberry Fire which is about 32 miles northwest of Craig, and it has consumed sage brush and tall grass also on BLM and private lands. By Wednesday firefighters were able to get 50 percent containment on the Mayberry Fire. Authorities from several jurisdictions have thrown a heavy air tanker and two single-engine air tankers at the blaze to back more than 75 firefighters on the ground. The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center expects full containment by today, officials said.
The Mayberry Fire threatened 30 gas wells and one home, but firefighters did not report any damage.
About 15 miles north of Elk Springs in western Moffat County, 11 firefighters were trying to snuff out flames that have burned 950 acres and could threaten two homes in the area. The Lone Fire was about 75 percent contained on Wednesday, officials said.
The fourth major fire was in the BLM’s Windy Gulch Wilderness Study Area about seven miles northwest of Meeker. Twenty-one firefighters are trying to keep Jordan Fire, which has blackened about 350 acres, from reaching some home that rest along Strawberry Creek, which is east of the blaze, authorities said.