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Planes to resume fighting wildfires after deadly crash

By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Officials prepared to return seven C-130 tankers to the air to fight wildfires in the West on Tuesday after a plane crash killed four and critically injured two crew members, grounding a fleet of craft.

The fleet was removed from service after a C-130 went down fighting a blaze in South Dakota on Sunday.

“I believe we’ll be flying today,” Deidre Forster, public affairs officer for the 153rd Air Expeditionary Group, which has the current tactical command of the fleet, said by telephone on Tuesday. The South Dakota incident remains “under investigation, but we are planning to fly,” she said.

Officials announced they would resume flying the C-130s sometime on Tuesday, but gave no details on where they will fly. In a prepared statement emailed to reporters, officials said the fleet would fly in several states.

The C-130 that went down on Sunday was carrying a crew of six and fighting the White Draw fire near Edgemont, S.D., on Sunday. The fire was listed as 50 percent contained on Tuesday after burning through 4,950 acres.

The plane and crew came from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing, based at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. According to Lt. Col. Rose Dunlap, the wing public affairs officer, the official toll is four dead and two critically injured in the crash, which is being examined by a safety investigation board. The investigation into the cause of the crash could take months, she said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times.

The craft was one of eight equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, also known as MAFFS. The system is a collection of tanks that allows the craft to drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant on a target in seconds. The craft have been in extensive use during the fire season in which blazes have been reported in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.

None of the dead or injured has been officially identified, though the family of Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal of Mooresville, N.C., identified him as a victim on Monday.

Meanwhile, firefighters continued to battle blazes across the West.

In hard-hit Colorado, the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs was reported to be about 70 percent contained after 17,920 acres were scorched. Officials continued to lift evacuation orders in the city, allowing residents to return to burned neighborhoods.

Wildfires also have been reported in Utah, Wyoming and Montana.

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