Copter crashes, 4 California firefighters injured |

Copter crashes, 4 California firefighters injured

Associated Press

JUNCTION CITY, Calif. ” Four firefighters were seriously injured when their helicopter went down while transporting crew members from a wildfire in Northern California.

Two of the firefighters were in critical condition at the University of California Medical Center in Sacramento, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mike Odle said today. The other two were in serious condition at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, he said.

They were injured when their Sikorsky S-61 helicopter crashed Tuesday night near its landing spot, about 15 miles northwest of Junction City, west of Redding, officials said.

The helicopter was transporting firefighters from the north end of a more than 27-square-mile fire burning in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, part of a larger complex of blazes that total 135 square miles.

Odle said he did not immediately know if any others were aboard the helicopter. A crash investigation team was heading to the site Wednesday.

The complex of fires in the Shasta-Trinity forest was about 87 percent contained.

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Another firefighter assigned to battle the same series of wildfires died late last month when he was hit by a falling tree.

Meanwhile, a storm front that moved into California on Tuesday stoked some wildfires, including a complex in rural Butte County that had threatened about 70 homes. It more than doubled in size when firefighters were forced to briefly retreat from unpredictable winds unleashed by passing thunderclouds, state fire officials said.

The loss of valuable firefighting time allowed the two-day-old blaze in the picturesque Feather Falls area to grow from 1,000 acres in the early afternoon to more than 2,500 acres by evening, and its containment level to drop from 30 percent to 20 percent, said Anthony Brown, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“All the work of the fire crews came to a cease because of safety reasons,” Brown said. “When they retreated, it allowed the fire to consume a bigger area.”

Residents living between the middle and southern forks of the Feather River, which feeds into Lake Oroville, have been told to evacuate, and officials pushed back their prediction for when the fire would be surrounded from Wednesday to Sunday.

Lightning from the passing storm front also started a few fires in the Inyo National Forest, including one that burned about 100 acres near Bishop before fire crews stopped its spread, said Carrie McDivitt, a Forest Service dispatcher.

A wildfire outside of Yosemite National Park that was started July 25 by a person taking target shooting practice was completely contained by Wednesday morning, after destroying at least 30 homes and consuming about 34,000 acres in Mariposa County. Officials revised their count of homes destroyed again ” up from 28 ” after surveying the damage.

State fire officials were investigating whether the person who started that blaze should be prosecuted.