By mid-June the national wildfire situation was speeding past all-time record proportions in nearly every category. According to a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, the total acreage burned so far this year is nearly double the 10-year annual average (861,786 acres) at 1,546,742 acres. “This is the driest much of the West, especially Colorado, has been in the last 50 years,” she said.
The hazards of fighting wildfires were made abundantly clear on June 17 to onlookers at a relatively small fire near the northern California town of Walker in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Yosemite National Park. A Lockheed C-130A Hercules transport modified as a water bomber crashed in full view of local TV cameras, killing all three crewmembers. At the onset of a pull-up after a flame-retardant run, both wings of the large four-turboprop transport broke away from the fuselage and burst into flame. Killed were pilot Steven Wass, 42, of Gardnerville, Nev.; copilot Craig Labare, 36, of Loomis, Calif.; and crewmember Michael Davis, 59, of Bakersfield, Calif.
The accident prompted the grounding of all five remaining C-130A water bombers under contract to NIFC by Hawkins & Powers of Greybull, Wyo.