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The State

3 Firefighters Are Killed in Crash of U.S. Forest Service Vehicle

July 29, 2002|From Associated Press

HAPPY CAMP, Calif. — Three firefighters were killed and two others injured early Sunday when a U.S. Forest Service fire engine patrolling the perimeter of a wildfire in the Klamath National Forest drove off a logging road and rolled 800 feet down a mountainside.

The engine crew based on the Lassen National Forest in Susanville was helping to watch over a 500-acre backfire set during the night to help contain the 1,350-acre Stanza Fire, which was burning 10 miles south of Happy Camp, when one wheel went off the narrow gravel road at about 1:30 a.m. and the truck plunged down the steep slope, said Forest Service incident commander Howard Carlson.

"It was going straight down the road on patrol" when it went off the road, Carlson said.

The green crew-cab pickup equipped with a 500-gallon water tank, came to rest on its top in an old clearcut, where a Forest Service firefighting crew out of Kentucky, who witnessed the crash, and hotshot crews from the Plumas and Eldorado national forests were able to reach the survivors.

Meanwhile, the fire raging near California's giant sequoias in Kernville grew by 1,500 acres Sunday, but the ancient trees seemed to be largely out of trouble, officials said.

Firefighters on the ground and in the air continued to work on the western edge of the blaze to protect 11 groves of sequoias, some of the world's oldest and largest trees.

The sequoias aren't completely safe, but firefighters have minimized the threat, said fire information officer Jill Slater. The 66,000-acre wildfire was 30% contained Sunday evening, she said.

A Bakersfield woman is accused of igniting the Kernville fire about 130 miles north of Los Angeles while cooking hot dogs over an illegal campfire. Peri Van Brunt, 45, was arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Fresno, but entered no plea. She remains in custody.

That fire has consumed more than 90 square miles. Firefighters were building more than 80 miles of firebreaks to contain it.

The cost of the fire has climbed to an estimated $9.1 million as close to 2,278 firefighters worked in shifts around the clock to build fire lines and douse flames.

About half the fire was within the 327,769-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument, within Sequoia National Forest. It has burned within a mile of the Packsaddle Grove, and within two miles of the Trail of 100 Giants.

The nighttime weather, which was cool and humid, has favored the firefighters' efforts, although it's still windy in the daytime, officials said.

Higher humidity and softer winds the last few days were a change from the conditions that sent the fire raging out of control its first few days, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Sue Exline.

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