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Air Tanker Goes Down in Blaze Fight

October 6, 1998

BANNING, Calif. (AP) _ Santa Ana winds sent wildfires raging across thousands of acres of Southern California brushland Monday and hundreds of homes were evacuated.

A state air tanker battling the blazes crashed, apparently killing the pilot.

Smoke stained the sky as the 18,000-acre Mount Edna fire rushed west from near Banning through The Badlands of Riverside County in the direction of Moreno Valley, and 3,200 acres burned to the north in Cherry Valley. One home was badly damaged by a roof fire. A mobile home was destroyed.

The air tanker was fighting the Mount Edna fire when it crashed. The pilot was presumed dead, said Karen Terrill, chief information officer for the California Department of Forestry in Sacramento. The pilot’s identity was withheld.

The aircraft was a single-seat Grumman S-2, a Korean War-vintage, twin-engine bomber that carries 800 gallons of fire retardant, Terrill said.

It was the first crash of a California Department of Forestry S-2 air tanker in more than six years.

Six hundred people were evacuated from a housing development in southwest Banning, said Riverside County-CDF spokeswoman Cassandra Thompson.

The other big blaze, dubbed the Taylor fire, erupted later in the day and ran toward Calimesa. Five hundred people were evacuated, said Calimesa city spokeswoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt.

``The wind condition is our predominant problem,″ said Battalion Chief Jim Wright. ``Resources are thin due to the multi-fires in the area. We’ve been deploying a hit-and-run strategy _ push the fire around structures and then go on to the next threat.″

About 150 evacuees came to Beaumont City Hall, one of three centers, said Red Cross spokeswoman Pamela Anderson.

``I think they pretty much have what’s on their backs,″ she said. Out of the group, eighty were students from a school for special-needs children.

Banning is about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.

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