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Helicopter Pilot Dies in Crash While Fighting Wildfire Near Coalinga
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By Bill McEwen, News Director
Published 4 years ago on
August 20, 2020

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A pilot battling the Hills Fire about nine miles south of Coalinga died when a helicopter crashed Wednesday morning.

The Bell UH-1H helicopter was on a water-dropping mission on the Hills Fire, Cal Fire officials said.

The pilot was the only one on board.

The Fresno Sheriff’s office was called shortly after 11 a.m. to assist in recovering the pilot’s body.

The crash caused a new 20-acre fire to break out, authorities said, but it is expected to spread into the main fire.

CNN reported that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

On Wednesday morning, Cal Fire said the Hills Fire was 1,500 acres and 35% contained.

Photo of a Bell UH-1H "Super Huey" helicopter used by Cal Fire
A Bell UH-1H “Super Huey” helicopter used by Cal Fire. (fire.ca.gov)

Crews Battling 367 Wildfires in California

The helicopter crash happened on a day when fire crews were spread thin throughout California.

At least 367 fires, mostly in Northern California, were sparked by nearly 11,000 lightning strikes on Sunday, according to Cal Fire.

“We are experiencing fires the likes of which we haven’t seen in many, many years,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

The fires come as the state endures a heatwave, electricity shortages, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My recommendation is that all the citizens in California be ready to go if there is a wildfire,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynnette Round said. “Residents have to have their bags packed up with your nose facing out your driveway so you can leave quickly. Everybody should be ready to go, especially if you’re in a wildfire area.”

An outbuilding burns as the LNU Lightning Complex fires tear through the Spanish Flat area of unincorporated Napa County on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heatwave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Fresno, Tulare Emergency Medical Teams Sent to Fires

The state requested that two Valley ambulance strike teams report to the Lightning Complex Fire on Wednesday morning.

A strike team is comprised of five paramedic ambulances and a supervisor.

Members from American Ambulance in Fresno and Kingsburg Fire Ambulance made up one team. It was dispatched to Napa County.

American Ambulance members from Visalia comprised a team sent to Kaiser Hospital in Vacaville.

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Bill McEwen,
News Director
Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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