Aerial firefighter killed fighting fire near Helena, Montana

An aerial firefighter lost her life while battling the Horse Gulch Fire north of Helena. Her body was recovered Wednesday afternoon, NBC Montana reported.

According to the federal fire information website InciWeb, the U.S. Forest Service estimates the fire was about 1,500 acres (600 hectares) in size as of 2 a.m.

In their live broadcast at 6:00 p.m., NBC Montana reported that “the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office says the pilot’s body has been recovered. The crash occurred near the Hauser Lake portion of the Missouri River. The plane was shoveling water for the Horse Gulch Fire when it went down.”

Peter Christian of KGVO News tells us the plane was an Air Tractor 802.

Jessica Nelson of the Montana Television Network reports that the plane was on contract for the U.S. Forest Service. “The pilot was a 45-year-old woman; her name has not yet been released. She was the only person on board the plane.” Nelson added that “the Horse Gulch Fire was reported around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and is located about five miles south of York and two miles north of Canyon Ferry.

Officials are on extra alert for fire danger this week as temperatures in parts of Montana are expected to rise to near or above triple digits.

I spoke with Joe Lester from the National Weather Service office in Billings on Tuesday morning. Fortunately, he tells us, we are not expecting high winds and heat this week. Still, he urges everyone to remain cautious.

Joe Lester: “We don’t really look at windy days. Those are the worst days, those really hot, dry, windy days. So generally it’s not going to be that windy. So that’s good. But still, it takes heat… in that heat, you don’t need much to get a fire going.”

Press release

Governor Gianforte and Governor Little issue joint statement on Horse Gulch fire fatalities

HELENA, Mont. – Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued the following statement today after learning of the death of a firefighter responding to the Horse Gulch Fire in Helena, Montana. The aircraft was on loan from Idaho to the U.S. Forest Service, which responded to the fire.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the young female firefighter who tragically lost her life in the Horse Gulch Fire in Helena, Montana. Our first responders and wildland firefighters put their lives on the line to quickly respond to threats and protect our communities. It is a true act of courage to rush to a fire. We join with all Montanans and Idahoans in praying for the family and friends of the fallen hero during this tragic time.

“We continue to monitor the Horse Gulch fire, which was initially managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Montana Department of Natural Resources has recently deployed resources to support the response.

“In the meantime, those living near the fire should listen to local authorities, avoid the area and let these brave men and women do their job.”

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