A U.S. Forest Service fire battalion chief on his way home from the Railroad Fire near Fish Camp was killed Thursday morning in a collision on Highway 41 in Kings County.
Gary Helming, 47, of Pismo Beach, suffered fatal injuries in the collision, which occurred south of Highway 33, according to the Kings County Coroner’s Office and the California Highway Patrol. Assigned to the Santa Lucia Ranger District in northern Santa Barbara and southern San Luis Obispo counties, Helming was on his way home from an assignment on the 1,900-acre Railroad Fire, Andrew Madsen, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, told Santa Barbara news website Noozhawk.com.
“Our hearts go out to Gary’s family, the Forest Service and the wildland fire community — he exemplified the highest standards of honor and professionalism,” Los Padres Deputy Forest Supervisor Ken Heffner told Noozhawk.com. “Gary was a tremendous leader, partner and thoughtful person who engaged with everyone. He will be greatly missed.”
Helming began working for the Forest Service 22 years ago as a seasonal firefighter. He worked for the BLM and the National Park Service before returning to the Forest Service again in 2013.
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The collision occurred about 8:25 a.m., when Antonio Avalos, 25, of Santa Maria was driving north in a 2000 Ford F-350, according to Officer Steve Schuh of the CHP’s Coalinga office.
A driver-side tire on Avalos’ truck went flat suddenly, causing the vehicle to swerve into the southbound lanes and hit Helming’s 2014 Ford F-350. Helming was pinned inside and died at the scene.
Avalos was airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno with major injuries, Schuh said. Both lanes of traffic on Highway 41 were closed for a short time to let a helicopter land and transport Avalos.
Helming is survived by his wife, three children and their family.