Helicopter pilot killed fighting Wash. wildfire


Associated Press
King 5 News

KELLER, Wash. The pilot killed in a helicopter crash on the Colville Indian Reservation had extensive experience fighting wildfires from the air, authorities said Saturday.

Randall Harmon, 44, of Grants Pass, Ore., was the only one on board the Kaman K-1200 when it went down Friday while dropping water on the McGinnis Flats fire near this town in northeastern Washington.

"We're a small company and it really hits home," said Andy Mills, marketing director for Superior Helicopter LLC, based in Grants Pass, Ore.

Helicopter firefighters face serious risks.
A married father of two, Harmon had worked for Superior Helicopter for seven years. He had more than 9,500 flight hours in 20 years of experience as a helicopter pilot, said Bill Wilburn, a fire information officer with the state Department of Natural Resources.

The National Transportation Safety Board was leading the crash investigation. Two Superior Helicopter representatives were sent to the crash site Saturday to assist NTSB investigators, Mills said.

"We have no indications whatsoever what happened," Mills said. "Whatever happened happened quickly. That's all we know."

Harmon was the first person killed fighting wildfires in Washington state this year. His death came five days after two helitack firefighters in Idaho were killed while battling a blaze in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Jeff Allen, 24 and Shane Heath, died Tuesday when a fire exploded around them as they were trying to prepare a helicopter landing site at the Cramer fire, about 22 miles west of North Fork, Idaho.

The helicopter Harmon was flying was a multipurpose aircraft that could carry suspended loads and is used for firefighting, forestry and logging.

Mills said Superior Helicopter's main concern was the well-being of Harmon's family. "We're trying to do our best to support them right now," he said.

Resource Links
National Interagency Fire Center

Washington, Oregon burn bans

Current wildland fire info

U.S. Forest Service

National Weather Service Fire Weather

National Smokejumper Association

The crash did not ground any helicopters on the McGinnis Flats fire. A DNR helicopter continued to drop water on the fire, Wilburn said, and another one was being sent from the Farewell Creek fire in northcentral Washington. The fire, which started July 18, had burned about 2,223 acres and remained about 70 percent contained Saturday. There were 638 firefighters on the line. Investigators said it was human caused and has cost about $3.3 million to fight There have been no serious injuries from any of the other wildfires now burning in Washington, which have charred more than 90,000 acres. Farewell Creek fire
Crews stationed at the 63,865-acre Farewell Creek fire in the Pasayten Wilderness on Saturday were working to dig indirect containment lines east of the Loomis State Forest, fire information officer Lorie List said.

Firefighters were "widening existing roads and trails to create a defensible space should the fire leave the wilderness," List said.

Their goal: to prevent the fire from burning trees on state trust lands where logging proceeds are used to build public schools. Timber sales from the forest east of Loomis in northern Okanogan County produce about $2.25 million a year for the state's school construction fund.

The wildfire in northeastern Washington started July 18.

The closest edge of the Farewell Creek fire was about 5 miles west of the 134,000-acre forest.

The fire grew by less than 10 acres overnight and was about 35 percent contained Saturday, fire officials said.

The fire was started by lightning June 29 and has cost nearly $21 million to fight so far. It's burning in roadless wilderness where motorized vehicles are prohibited and is being fought by helicopters dropping water and retardant chemicals.

Ground forces are stationed on the wilderness perimeter, hoping to keep the flames inside. Fire managers have predicted it could reach 190,000 acres and continue to burn until the heavy rains, or early snows, of the fall. They say it could cost $69 million to fight.


KING 5's Wilson Chow reports

The Farewell Creek fire was burning toward the Canadian border, about four miles away. Water drops on the northwestern flank of the fire were under way Saturday to try to stop the fire's movement toward Canada, List said.
That advance of that part of the fire was slowing down, since it had burned into higher-elevation areas where vegetation is higher in water content, List said.

Two other fires in other parts of the state were fully contained on Friday: a 25,000-acre fire on the U.S. Army's Yakima Training Center, and the 1,064-acre Watt Road fire southwest of Cheney, near Spokane.


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