Estes Park wildfire forces evacuations; firefighting pilot dies in airplane crash
ESTES PARK — A wildfire broke out Tuesday morning, Nov. 16 in Estes Park.
The Estes Valley Fire Protection District responded to the Kruger Rock Fire just before 7 a.m. Tuesday near Little Valley and Fish Creek on the south side of Estes Park.
By 9:45 a.m. Tuesday morning, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office reported that the blaze had grown to 75 acres. As of Tuesday evening, the fire was estimated at 133 acres with 15% containment. Gusty winds and low humidity contributed to the fast spread of the blaze, which is threatening several structures and has forced some evacuations.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for the neighborhoods near the fire, along with voluntary evacuations for the surrounding areas. No structure damage had been reported as of Tuesday night, according to the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office also said that despite the gusting winds, air resources were utilized to make water and suppressant drops. Over 150 personnel worked the fire Tuesday, and more air resources were ordered for today along with additional fire crews.
The sheriff’s office reported that an investigation into the cause of the fire found that high winds had blown a tree down onto a nearby powerline.
On Tuesday night, the pilot of an air tanker died in a plane crash while fighting the fire. The pilot was a former military pilot with extensive experience flying at night, according to a spokesman with the company that owned the plane.
Marc Thor Olson died when his plane went down about 6:30 p.m. in the Hermit Park area near where the fire was burning, just south of Estes Park. The wreckage was discovered at about 10 p.m., according to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
Olson had more than 8,000 total hours of flying, including more than 1,000 hours of flying with night vision goggles, Kyle Scott and Chris Doyle, owners of CO Fire Aviation, which owned the plane, said in a joint statement.
Olson successfully dropped water over the fire shortly before dark and assessed the conditions, the company spokesman said. After sunset, he loaded up at the Northern Regional Airport for another drop and returned to the area as the winds died down. The mission did not require aerial supervision or a lead plane and the weather and wind conditions were reported to be within the limits of the company’s standard operating procedures, according to the spokesman.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said the crash investigation will be led by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
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