U.S. Forest Service battalion chief killed in collision on Highway 41

U.S. Forest Service battalion chief killed in collision on Highway 41

Battalion chief Gary Helming with the U.S. Forest Service was killed Thursday morning in a collision on Highway 41 in Kings County.

Helming, 47, sustained fatal injuries in the collision, which occurred south of Highway 33, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Helming was on his way home to Pismo California from an assignment on the Railroad Fire burning along Highway 41, according to Andrew Madsen, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

“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,” said Los Padres Deputy Forest Supervisor Ken Heffner. “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.

The collision occurred at 8:25 a.m. Thursday, when Antonio Avalos, 25, of Santa Maria California was driving northbound in a 2000 Ford F-350, according to the California Highway Patrol.

A 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 his vehicle during the collision and died at the scene.

Avalos was airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno with major injuries.

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued the following statement regarding the death of U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief Gary Helming:

“Anne and I were saddened to learn of the death of Chief Helming, a veteran firefighter who bravely served for more than 20 years. We extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues with the U.S. Forest Service.”

In honor of Chief Helming, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

He is survived by his wife and three children.

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