Nevada wildfires claim first fatality

RENO - A seasonal firefighter was killed and three other people were injured when a firefighting helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff in eastern Nevada.

The Bell 206 ''Jet Ranger'' helicopter had been carrying water and supplies at the 3,600-acre Charlie fire in Elko County when it took off about 7 p.m. Thursday to return to Wells for the night, fire spokesman Bill Roach said.

The chopper rolled after taking off and the main rotor hit the ground, officials said. The Interior Department's Office of Aviation Safety and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating.

Phillip Conner, 29, of Prescott, Ariz., was killed. Conner worked at the Lake Mead Recreation Area in Las Vegas. This was the fourth year he had worked at the agency as a summer seasonal firefighter.

Matt Cannon, a BLM crew member from Alaska, suffered a broken shoulder and was flown to Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, where he was listed in serious condition on Friday.

The pilot, Kenneth Carlton, worked for Rogers Helicopters out of Clovis, Calif., BLM spokeswoman Jo Simpson said. The helicopter was under an exclusive contract with the Interior Department for fire assistance.

Another Rogers employee, Rodney Scott, was driving a fuel truck and ran to the scene to help those on board after the crash, authorities said.

Carlton and Scott were taken to Elko General Hospital in Elko where they were treated and released.

Thursday's crash was the first fatality stemming from a wildland fire in Nevada since 1986, when Tim Baker, a firefighter at the Nevada Test Site, was overun by flames during a fire in southern Nevada.

The last deaths involving a firefighting helicopter occurred 10 years earlier, according to Steve Frady, a Nevada Division of Forestry spokesman and secretary-historian for the Nevada Firefighters Memorial.

On July 5, 1976, forestry employees John Ivins and Ken Carvin and BLM pilot James Davidson died when their helicopter crashed while fighting the Kings Canyon fire in Carson City.

The Charlie fire was 65 percent contained on Friday.

Elsewhere in Nevada, rain that accompanied the latest round of thunderstorms on Thursday helped quench some of the flames burning around the state.

''It rained mud here,'' said Dave Murphy, BLM spokesman in Winnemucca said of the storm that doused the northcentral Nevada town late Thursday.

The rain mixed with ash from wildland fires, leaving a coating of dirt, grit and ash.

''My car was so dirty,'' he said. ''My green hood was more brown than green. It was pretty amazing.''

The rain helped firefighters contain the 3,700-acre Jungo Complex fire on Thursday that was burning 10 miles northwest of Winnemucca.

Elsewhere, four fires being called the O'Neil Basin Complex 55 miles north of Wells had consumed 21,000 acres by Friday. All were sparked by lightning on Wednesday and were actively burning. One, the Sun fire, was unmanned because of a lack of resources.

Three fires continued to burn near Ely, the largest being the Cherry fire, which was started by lightning nearly a month ago and has burned 7,500 acres. It was 75 percent contained.

The Crusoe fire, at 3,000 acres, was 80 percent contained.

The Three Mile fire has burned 15,000 acres northeast of Midas since it broke out on Wednesday.

Near Reno, firefighters hoped to have the 2,900-acre Arrowcreek fire contained on Saturday. Six homes were damaged when it broke out during a thunderstorm on Tuesday in southwest Reno.

So far this year, more than 700 wildland fires have burned more than 420,000 acres in Nevada.


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