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Pilot death is 2nd amid late season wildfires in Rockies

Air tanker crashed while battling blaze near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
The Kruger Rock fire continues to burn in Estes Park, Colo., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. A wildfire in the town that serves as a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park has prompted some residents and businesses to be evacuated. Firefighters said the fire is burning Tuesday near Kruger Rock southeast of downtown Estes Park. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP)

Authorities on Wednesday were investigating the death of a pilot who crashed while fighting a wildfire near Rocky Mountain National Park, the second person to die amid wind-driven, late season wildfires in the Rockies this week.

The pilot of the single-engine air tanker was found dead Tuesday night south of Estes Park, Colorado about three hours after authorities received reports of a crash, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said. The pilot was the only person on board, it said.

KUSA-TV reported that it spoke to the pilot who died before he took off, saying that he was excited for the night time flight, which he said was the culmination of about five years of hard work.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending an investigator to the crash, agency spokesperson Peter Knudson said Wednesday. What kind of equipment the Air Tractor AT-802A had to fight fires at night would be something investigators would look at, he said.

Earlier this week, another wind-driven wildfire led to the death a person near Wyoming’s border with Montana.

Firefighters fully contained that fire that burned about half a square mile in the area of Clark, an unincorporated community of about 300 people just south of the Montana line. The fire happened when a branch blew into a power line and caught fire, Park County Fire Warden Jerry Parker said.

In south-central Montana, a fire reported late Monday night led the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office to order evacuations southwest of the town of Absarokee.

The Colorado fire was also started by high winds. Investigators found wind blew a tree onto a nearby powerline causing it to arc and start the fire, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said.

The fire started amid warmer-than-normal temperatures and drought conditions in much of Colorado though the weather was cooler Wednesday after some light snow fell in parts of the mountains. No measurable snow fell in Denver, which is on track to set a record for its latest snowfall, according to the National Weather Service.

The fire did not grow much overnight and was estimated to have burned about 140 acres (57 hectares) as of Wednesday, with the fire considered contained around 15% of its perimeter, the U.S. Forest Service said. Firefighters hoped to take advantage of cooler temperatures and lighter winds to stop its growth, it said.

—The Associated Press