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Kruger Rock Fire: Larimer County asks the public for help in plane crash investigation

kruger_rock_fire_2021118.jpg
Canyon Lakes Ranger District
/
USDA Forest Service
Firefighters construct handlines on the north and east sides of the Kruger Rock Fire on Nov. 18, 2021.

Updated 11/18/2021 at 6:12 p.m. - As part of its investigation into Tuesday night's fatal plane crash, the Larimer County Sherriff's Office is asking the public for any photos or videos taken of the aircraft while it was conducting aerial operations on the Kruger Rock Fire. Individuals can submit images or video here.

Containment of the 146-acre fire has increased to 60% as of 6 p.m.

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Updated 11/18/2021 at 9:30 a.m. - A morning update from the U.S. Forest Service reports the Kruger Rock Fire at 146 acres and 40% containment, with minimal fire activity overnight. Red flag conditions are expected at around 10 a.m. and to continue until Friday at 5 a.m.

A total of 210 personnel are working to contain the fire on the north and east sides, and to secure existing fire lines.
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Updated 11/17/2021 at 5:55 p.m. - New details have emerged about Tuesday night's fatal plane crash. Veteran pilot Marc Thor Olson was flying the single-engine aircraft responding to the Kruger Rock Fire, when the air tanker went down in turbulent wind conditions. According to the Larimer County Sherriff's Office, Olson had conducted one successful water drop on the fire and was about to make a second drop when the aircraft crashed.

Olson was a pilot for Colorado Fire Aviation, which had agreed to assist Larimer County with air resources earlier Tuesday. The Kruger Rock Fire was the first time the county had used their services. Mark Olson was an Air Force and Army veteran with 42 years of flying experience.

At last report, the Kruger Rock Fire was at 145 acres with 40% containment, according to the U.S. Forest Service. A red flag warning will be in effect Thursday for parts of the Front Range, including Estes Park, with wind gusts up to 40 mph possible.

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Updated 11/17/2021 at 2:20 p.m. - At last report, the fire is now 15% contained at 140 acres and some evacuation orders are being lifted or downgraded.

Residents on the east side of U.S. Highway 36 can return home. Hwy 36 is now open between Lyons and Estes Park. Evacuations have been downgraded from mandatory to voluntary for those in Meadowdale south to the Boulder County line and east of Fish Creek Road. Mandatory evacuations are still in place for Hermit Park.

"We’re starting to see some favorable weather conditions for some good firefighting and we’re starting to feel there’s not much potential for rapid growth," said Genevieve Cramer, a spokesperson for Larimer County.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Department is now sharing joint command with the U.S. Forest Service.

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The pilot of a single-engine air tanker who died last night when the aircraft went down has been identified as Marc Thor Olson.

Colorado Fire Aviation shared on Facebook that Olson was a highly decorated Army and Air Force veteran with 42 years of flying experience.

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Updated 11/17/2021 at 8:30 a.m. - The pilot of a firefighting plane is dead after the single engine air tanker crashed Tuesday night while fighting the Kruger Rock Fire south of Estes Park. An investigation into the crash is ongoing.

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office received reports that the aircraft was downed shortly after 6:30 p.m. Crews searching the area found the crash site, near the south end of Hermit Park, at approximately 9:49 p.m.

"The LCSO and all agencies on this fire are devastated by the loss of a dedicated and brave pilot and his plane earlier this evening on this fire. Our prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues," Sheriff Justin Smith wrote on Facebook Tuesday night.

It is the second wildfire-related death this week after a person died in a wind-fueled blaze near Wyoming's border with Montana.

KUSA-TV reported that it spoke to the pilot before he took off, saying that he was excited for the night time flight, which he said was the culmination of about five years of hard work.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending an investigator to the scene, agency spokesperson Peter Knudson said Wednesday. What kind of equipment the Air Tractor AT-802 had to fight fires at night would be something investigators would look at, he said.

An investigation into the cause of the Kruger Rock Fire revealed that high winds downed a tree into a powerline. Overnight snow flurries and calmer winds expected today should help in the effort to contain the fire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Updated 11/16/2021 at 7:45 p.m. - A firefighting aircraft has crashed south of Estes Park, according to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.

As of 6:30 p.m., the Kruger Rock Fire is reported to be approximately 133 acres with 15% containment. Firefighting operations are set to resume in the morning at 7 a.m.
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Updated 11/16/2021 at 5:30 p.m. - Rocky Mountain National Park has closed the Twin Sisters area, including the Twin Sisters trail and parking lot. Parts of the Roosevelt National Forest south and east of Estes Park are also closed.

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Updated 11/16/2021 at 3:55 p.m. - Fire crews are making some progress on the Kruger Rock Fire in Estes Park. At last report, the blaze was 115 acres with 11% containment. 150 personnel are working the fire with additional resources being called up.

Mandatory evacuation orders are in place for the Pole Hill Road to Panorama Peak area, Little Valley, Hermit Park, Meadowdale and south to the Boulder County line. Areas of the Roosevelt National Forest south and east of Estes Park have been closed. No structures have been reported lost.

Overnight sheltering for evacuees is being offered at the YMCA in Estes Park and LifeBridge Church in Longmont.

Evacuation sites:

  • YMCA of the Rockies (overnight sheltering, small pets welcome): 2515 Tunnel Rd, Estes Park, CO 80511
  • LifeBridge Church (overnight sheltering): 10345 Ute Hwy, Longmont, CO 80504
  • Estes Park Event Center: 1125 Rooftop Way, Estes Park, CO 80517 (closing at 6:30 p.m. and will reopen at 7 a.m. Wednesday)

Animal evacuation sites:

  • Larimer Humane Society (small animals): 3501 E. 71st Street, Loveland, CO 80538
  • The Ranch (large animals): 5280 Arena Circle, Loveland, CO 80538
  • Boulder County Humane Society (small animals): 2323 55th St, Boulder, CO 80301

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kruger_rock_fire_20211116.jpg
Courtesy Alex Hesemann
View of the Kruger Rock Fire on the morning of Nov. 16, 2021.

Updated 11/16/2021 at 1:50 p.m. - The Kruger Rock Fire is currently estimated to be around 100 acres with zero containment. Strong winds are preventing air support, leaving ground crews to fight the blaze.

Mandatory evacuation orders are in place for the area from Pole Hill Road to Panorama Peak, Little Valley, Hermit Park, Meadowdale and south to the Boulder County line. Highway 36 is closed from Lyons to Estes Park.

According to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, the fire was likely caused by power lines whipping in the wind overnight. Larimer County Deputy Chris Smith said fire conditions right now are dangerous.

"It's dry, it's been dry and we haven't received any moisture, so being careful with anything that could cause a spark is obviously big right now," Smith said.
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Updated 11/16/2021 at 9:54 a.m. - The latest estimate on the size of the fire is 75 acres, with threats to structures but no damage reported at the time of this update.

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The Estes Park Emergency Communications Center issued mandatory evacuation orders to the Little Valley and Hermit Park areas of Estes Park due to a fast-growing wildfire near Kruger Rock Tuesday morning. Voluntary evacuations are advised for those in the nearby Meadowdale area.

The fire was reported just before 7 a.m. near Little Valley Road and Fish Creek Road and grew from five acres to approximately 20 acres as of 8:48 a.m., according to Larimer County officials.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said on Facebook that "winds are definitely a factor." The cause of the fire is unknown at this time.

This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.

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