Firefighting helicopter crashes in Florida

FT. MYERS, Fla. - A government helicopter fighting wildfires in southwest Florida crashed Sunday morning, killing the pilot.

The Bell UH-1 Huey was equipped to carry 200 gallons of water, said Liz Compton, a Florida Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.

''He had dumped the load and was going back to get more water when he crashed,'' Compton said.

The helicopter was being flown for the Division of Forestry. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The pilot, whose name was not released, had been fighting a fire that reportedly threatened about a dozen homes near Fort Myers. Fire officials could not immediately confirm the extent of the blaze.

Since the first of the year, 3,300 fires have burned 120,000 acres in Florida.

In the West, hot, dry conditions have fueled wildfires in several states.

Firefighters in New Mexico had a blaze in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains about 70 percent contained Sunday. The fire had forced the evacuation of hundreds since it began Monday in a pine forest east of Santa Fe.

Officials said the fire threat in the area remained high despite thunderstorms Thursday and Friday.

In Arizona, an 11,000-acre fire in the Kaibab National Forest was about 75 percent contained Sunday. Authorities said the steep rugged terrain has made part of the fire impossible to reach, but natural barriers and fire lines now ring the blaze.

''Nobody expects it to be completely out until we get some rain on it,'' fire information officer Jason Abraham said.


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