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Investigators visiting scene of fatal air tanker crash in Utah

Published June 6, 2012 7:41 am

Wildfires • "Red Flag" warnings highlight risks for much of the state heading into mid-week.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators began inspecting the site of a fatal air tanker crash on Tuesday, looking for clues as to what caused the aircraft to crash, killing its two pilots this past weekend.

Interagency Fire Center spokesman Chris Hanafeld said the investigation had just begun, and NTSB officials had not identified any likely reasons for the P-2V plane's crash on Sunday in Utah's Hamblin Valley area. Killed were Todd Neal Tompkins, 48, and Ronnie Edwin Chambless, 40, both of Boise, Idaho. The two had flown the World War II-era tanker plane out of Cedar City the day they crashed.

Tompkins and Chambless were flying fire- and water-retardant dumping missions Sunday against the lightning-sparked, 5,863-acre White Rock Fire, still burning along the Utah-Nevada border, 25 miles northeast of Caliente, Nev. Hanafeld said the blaze was 20 percent contained on Tuesday.

Gaining ground was the new Lost Lake Fire, near central Utah's Fishlake National Forest. It grew from about 6 acres on Tuesday morning to 500 acres Tuesday night, according to IAFC spokesman John Zapell. Trails and roads near Donkey Reservoir and Coleman Reservoir have been closed until further notice. A community meeting will take place 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Bicknell Community Center.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

The Box Creek Fire, burning 9 miles northeast of Marysvale also forced road and trail closures near the South Fork of Box Creek, Big Flat, the Dry Creek Ranger Station, Manning and Monroe meadows, and the Koosharem Guard Station. Also closed: Monroe Mountain Road at Hunt's Lake; Greenwich Road at Indian Flat; Koosharem Road at Milos Kitchen; and Cove Road at Christensen Springs. Evacuations were in place for the Monroe Meadows area, Zapell reported.

The Box Creek Fire was 250 acres as of Tuesday night. A public meeting will take place 7 p.m. Wednesday in room B46 of the Sevier County Administration Building in Richfield.

Meanwhile, crews on Tuesday had contained a wildfire near the Beaver County Minersville Recreation Area and were monitoring another blaze near Fishlake National Forest, even as much of the state once again fell under "Red Flag" wildfire danger warnings.

On the other side of the state, crews had contained the 5,742-acre Sunrise Mine Fire, which had burned along the Utah-Colorado border southwest of Gateway, Colo., and into Utah's portion of Carpenter Ridge. The human-caused fire had begun May 25.

Also contained was the Bell 47 Fire, near Minersville, after flames scorched 150 acres. The cause of that fire was still under investigation on Tuesday. However, Utah's crews were on alert going into the mid-week, with wildfire advisories issued for southwestern Utah's Washington County stretching to the state's southeastern corner and northeast to include Vernal, Green River, Moab, Monticello, Blanding and Bluff. Carbon County, in central Utah, also rated the wildfire warning.