Montana wildland firefighter pilot killed in crash while fighting Horse Gulch Fire

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HELENA, Mont. – A pilot of a firefighting plane tragically died in a crash in Montana’s Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, according to officials.

A single-engine air tanker was part of the response to the Horse Gulch Fire in Helena and crashed into the water in the Hauser Reservoir about noon Wednesday, authorities said. 

The pilot, a 45-year-old woman, was the only person on board, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton confirmed to the Daily Montanan. The plane was on loan from Idaho to the U.S. Forest Service.

“This is not just coming in and flying and picking up water,” Dutton told the Associated Press. “These are dangerous types of environments.”

The Horse Gulch Fire is estimated to be 600-plus acres and growth continues to be driven by hot, windy and dry conditions.

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An evacuation order for residents living adjacent to the fire has been issued as firefighters work to create a barrier on the southern side of the fire, where there are properties at risk.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte and Idaho Governor Brad Little issued a joint statement upon learning of the passing of the wildland firefighter.

“Our first responders and wildland firefighters put their lives on the line to quickly respond to threats and protect our communities,” they said. “It’s a true act of bravery to run toward a fire. We join all Montanans and Idahoans in praying for the fallen hero’s family and friends during this tragic time.”

The Horse Gulch fire, which was initially managed by the U.S. Forest Service, now has resources deployed to support the response from the Montana Department of Natural Resources.

“Those living near the fire should listen to local officials, avoid the area, and allow these brave men and women to do their jobs,” the governors said.

The crash will be investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the U.S. Forest Service.

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