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Hard helicopter landing near Galt sparks fire; pilot OK

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Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 2:47 pm | Updated: 5:03 am, Sat Sep 29, 2012.

About 15 acres of remote grassland were scorched when a helicopter made a hard landing northwest of Galt on Tuesday afternoon.

The pilot was not injured in the landing or resulting grassfire, but one firefighter suffered heat exhaustion and was taken for treatment, said John Michelini, deputy fire chief of the Cosumnes Fire Department. Several other firefighters also had minor symptoms of heat exhaustion but were treated on-scene, he said.

The fire burned for nearly four hours before being contained around 4 p.m., authorities said. The circumstances surrounding the helicopter landing are under investigation, Michelini said.

"We don't know at this point what caused it to go down," he said.

All authorities knew as of press time was that the pilot was the only occupant in the helicopter and that it was a privately owned aircraft, he said. The California Highway Patrol evaluated the helicopter pilot and transported him from the scene, Michelini said.

No structures were threatened, evacuated or destroyed during the event. However, the helicopter was consumed by the fire, said Tracey Hansen, fire chief for the department.

Emergency crews received the first report of the fire shortly after noon, said George Marshall, fire marshal for the Cosumnes Fire Department. There was a flurry of activity among law enforcement agencies and rescue teams as calls came in.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department sent a deputy to the Lodi Airport because initial calls reported a plane crash at the end of the runway. A REACH Air Ambulance was also summoned but quickly called off shortly after 1 p.m.

Once the location of the fire was confirmed, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District sent two helicopters to drop water on the fire, Michelini said.

The fire's remote location provided no shortage of complications for emergency crews. Two fire department vehicles sustained minor damage navigating the grassland and adjacent creek, Michelini said.

One four-wheel drive vehicle had damage to its power-steering system when the driver attempted to cross a levee of rocks and dirt. The vehicle's undercarriage was scraped by the debris and caused the damage, he said.

A second vehicle was also momentarily out of commission at the same location, Michelini said.

The second truck was also attempting to cross the levee when the airbrakes on the truck were damaged. Both vehicles were repaired on-scene and did not require a tow-truck, Michelini said.

The vast network of power lines didn't pose complications to the efforts of firefighters, said George Apple, Cosumnes Fire Department fire marshal. However, the helicopters did not have a nearby water source to draw from, he said.

News-Sentinel reporter Ross Farrow contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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