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Firefighter killed in Calaveras state park while preparing a prescribed burn

Calaveras Big Trees State Park
A sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. A falling tree (not shown here) struck and killed firefighter Darin Banks as he prepared the area for a prescribed burn.
(Ernest K. Bennett / Associated Press)
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A 26-year-old firefighter was killed when a dead tree struck and killed him while he was preparing a patch of land for a prescribed burn in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, east of Sacramento, officials said.

Darin Banks of Red Bluff was assigned to a hand crew preparing for the prescribed burn in the park’s South Grove, where there are hundreds of ancient sequoias, when he was killed on May 6, according to Jess Wills, president of Firestorm Wildland Fire Suppression Inc.

Banks was clearing dead trees when the top of a tree broke off and fell, striking him in the head, back and legs, said a spokesperson for California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Banks could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at the scene.

“Our heart goes out to his family and friends,” said Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for California State Parks.

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Cal/OSHA and the Tuolumne County Coroner were at the state park this week to investigate the incident, Johnson said.

The investigation is ongoing, according to a Cal/OSHA spokesperson.

Banks had a 4-year-old son, Wills said in a statement Saturday. Banks’ body was being transported in a convoy to his home in Red Bluff on Thursday, KRCR7 reported.

California State Parks Fire Management, working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, was preparing prescribed burns in the South Grove and North Grove area of the park at the time of the incident.

The accident came amid a push by the Calaveras Big Trees Assn., a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the park’s two groves of sequoias, to immediately mobilize forest crews to try to prevent destructive wildfires.

“As a result of decades of fire suppression followed by limited periodic controlled burning, there has been an excessive, unnatural accumulation of fuel over the years,” Vida Kenk, president of the CBTA, said earlier this year.

Approximately 19% of all giant sequoias, exclusive to California and some more than 2,000 years old, have been destroyed by wildfires in less than two years, Kenk said.

Catastrophic wildfires could be prevented by strategically implementing measures such as controlled burning, which reduces flammable fuels in the forest that can turn a fire into a conflagration, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Fuel treatments make wildfires less likely and easier for firefighters to manage if one occurs, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Wildland Fire.

The next prescribed burn will be conducted Sunday in the North Grove weather permitting, Johnson said. Prescribed burning in the South Grove has been postponed to the fall, and crews will continue to prepare the area into the summer, he said.

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