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Pismo man killed in Hwy. 41 crash identified as U.S. Forest Service fire battalion chief

Cal Fire honors battalion chief Helming who died in traffic collision after Railroad Fire

Cal Fire pays to tribute to U.S. Forest Service fire battalion chief Gary Helming of Pismo Beach who died in a collision on Highway 41 south of Highway 33 Aug. 31, 2017. He was on his way home from the Railroad Fire near Yosemite. A memorial is pl
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Cal Fire pays to tribute to U.S. Forest Service fire battalion chief Gary Helming of Pismo Beach who died in a collision on Highway 41 south of Highway 33 Aug. 31, 2017. He was on his way home from the Railroad Fire near Yosemite. A memorial is pl

The Pismo Beach man who was killed Thursday morning in a collision on Highway 41 in Kings County was a Santa Maria-based U.S. Forest Service battalion chief.

Gary Helming, 47, sustained 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 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 about 8:25 a.m., when Antonio Avalos, 25, of Santa Maria was driving northbound in a 2000 Ford F-350, according to Officer Steve Schuh of the CHP’s Coalinga office.

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, Schuh said.

Helming is survived by his wife, three children and their family.

Marc Benjamin of the Fresno Bee contributed to this story.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at tbolton@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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