|VALE, ORE. -- A van full of firefighters on their way home from a wildfire collided with a tractor-trailer and exploded in flames Sunday, killing all eight inside and injuring the two people in the truck.|
The firefighters, all under the age of 23, were returning to Oregon from an Idaho wildfire late Sunday morning when the van crashed on a remote eastern Oregon highway about 15 miles west of Vale, the Malheur County Sheriff said.
The van apparently tried to pass another truck on a curve and crossed the double-yellow line before it collided with the truck, said Undersheriff Brian Wolfe.
The occupants of the Swift Co. tractor-trailer were able to free themselves and were subsequently taken to an Ontario hospital with dislocations and burns, Wolfe said. Their names and conditions were not available Sunday night.
The wreckage of the van and the truck were almost indistinguishable. The charred frame of the van was torn in two. The cab of the semi was demolished but the diesel exhaust stack remained erect.
The firefighters worked for First Strike Environmental, a contract firefighting company in Roseburg, Ore. Their names were not expected to be released until today.
The van had been traveling with another First Strike vehicle that was driving ahead; its occupants did not see the crash, Wolfe said. They saw the wreckage after driving back because they had lost radio contact with the other vehicle.
First Strike's Web page says it has been in business for more than 15 years, dealing with a variety of emergency situations in the West. It keeps about 200 firefighters on call during forest fire season.
Fire coordinators said the van was coming back from a wildfire in the Boise National Forest about 25 miles northeast of the town of Cascade, Idaho. Fires have erupted in many parts of the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.
Before Sunday, 19 firefighters assigned to wildfires had died on duty this year, said to Tracey Powers of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Nine died in motor vehicle or aviation accidents, three in fires, six of illnesses and one when a tree fell on his tent.
Rebecca Boone, Associated Press
From the Star Tribune