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Plane goes down fighting White Draw fire

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A C-130 plane fighting the White Draw fire near Edgemont "went down" Sunday night, according to the Fall River County Sheriff's Office.

A helicopter was able to land near the Air Force plane and took three people to Custer to be transported by ambulance to Rapid City Regional Hospital for further medical treatment, the sheriff's office said.

A spokesman handling information for the White Draw fire said he was unable to confirm anything beyond the fact that a plane went down and search and rescue crews were working on the crash. He could not confirm the number of people or the type of plane involved.

"Our No. 1 priority right now is taking care of the crew," Pat Cross, incident management spokesman, said Sunday night.

Military officials confirmed that the plane that crashed was based out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

The aircraft disappeared from radar contact early Sunday evening, according to Dakota Fire information spokeswoman Julie Molzahn. Emergency management personnel were scrambling to uncover the full details Sunday evening.

Late Sunday night, information requests were handed over to a military press information office.

There are 181 personnel fighting the fire, which has grown to 4,200 acres and is 30 percent contained. The C-130 Hercules Air Force plane has been used to drop retardant on the fire.

The airplane crash looks to complicate the effort to fight the White Draw fire, a blaze that has been spurred on by hot conditions and light, grassy fuels that ignite rapidly.

The fire, about five miles northeast of Edgemont, is consuming a mix of grasslands and timber on U.S. Forest Service land.

"We had a little bit of rain (Saturday) but with the fine, grassy fuels, it doesn't take long for that to dry out and become tinder dry," spokesman Brian Scott said Sunday.

Active fire behavior began again around noon Sunday, producing heavy smoke and significant fire growth. Hot, dry weather with winds coming out of the southeast grew the fire. In the late afternoon, a thunder cell passed over, producing lightning.

After the thunder cell passed, the wind shifted to the southwest.

Crews started their day early Sunday to take advantage of more favorable working conditions ahead of unfavorable winds and temperatures in the hot afternoon hours.

Firefighters are working on protecting structures on the northwest perimeter.

Four helicopters provided water drops throughout the day to cool hot spots. A single engine air tanker and U.S. Air Force Mobile Air Fighting System C-130 Hercules assisted with retardant drops. The C-130 was the one that went down.

The 181 personnel assigned to the fire include four Type II hand crews of 20 each, 13 fire engines, three dozers and five water tenders in addition to the aircraft. More crews equipment have been ordered.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

Contact Aaron Orlowski at 484-7069 or aaron.orlowski@rapidcityjournal.com

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