Air tanker crashes while fighting fire in Yosemite National Park

Posted at 10:25 PM, Oct 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-07 22:25:17-04

(CNN) — An air tanker crashed Tuesday while fighting a wildfire in Yosemite National Park, spurring a difficult search for its pilot.

The tanker was being used to help battle Dog Rock Fire when authorities lost contact with its pilot Tuesday afternoon, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said in a statement. Berlant later confirmed the plane went down in that area.

“Rescue personnel are at the scene working their way through extremely difficult terrain to determine the condition of our pilot,” Berlant said.

The Dog Rock Fire was reported around 2:45 p.m. (5:45 p.m. ET) between the park boundary and the Arch Rock entrance station.

Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said about two hours later that the blaze had burned about 130 acres and was “0% contained.”

“We don’t know what started it,” Cobb said.

The blaze has already prompted the evacuation of 60 homes, most of them vacation rentals, in the park’s Foresta area, according to Cobb.

Yosemite’s website also noted that parts of El Portal Road has been closed to all traffic.

Video from CNN affiliate KCRA showed smoke and flames rising from what appeared to be a tree-lined ridge in a remote valley. A helicopter could be seen dropping what appeared to be water on the blaze before flying from the scene.

The tanker that crashed was an S-2T, one of several aircraft that Cal Fire deploys to battle wildfires.

According to Cal Fire, it bought 26 such planes from the U.S. Department of Defense in 1996 and fitted them “with modern, powerful turboprop engines” that made them “faster, safer, and more maneuverable.”

All but a few of those planes, equipped with a payload of retardant to drop on flames, are now being used statewide.