Pilot Becomes Second Person to Die in Rocky Mountain Wildfires, Authorities Say

A pilot crashed and died while fighting a wildfire near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. It's the second person to die this week from wind-driven wildfires in the Rockies, the Associated Press reported.

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

The flight was believed to be the first time in U.S. history that a fixed-winged aircraft was being used to fight a fire at night using night-vision goggles, Denver-based news station KUSA-TV reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the crash.

Earlier this week, another person died from a wind-driven wildfire near Wyoming's border with Montana. Kristie Hoffert, medical chief for the Clark Fire District, said the person who died was a family member of a firefighter.

Officials did not release any information on how the death occurred.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Wildfires, Rocky Mountain National Park
A pilot fighting the blaze in Colorado has become the second person to die in the Rocky Mountain Wildfires. Above, the Kruger Rock fire continues to burn in Estes Park, Colorado, on November 16, 2021. RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post/AP Photo

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 percent 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 National Transportation Safety Board was sending an investigator to the plane 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.