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MODENA, Iron County — Two people were killed Sunday when an airplane assisting fire crews with the White Rock Fire crashed Sunday in the Hamblin Valley area of Iron County.
The plane's pilot, 48-year-old Todd Tompkins, and co- pilot, Ronnie Chambless, 40, were both killed after the P2V heavy air tanker they were flying crashed shortly after 2 p.m. on Sunday. Both men were from Boise, Idaho.
The plane was owned by Neptune Aviation Services, of Missoula, Mont., according to officials with the Bureau of Land Management. The cause of the crash was not yet known.
Iron County Detective Sgt. Jody Edwards said the two victims were the only individuals on the plane.
"These planes generally have a pilot and co-pilot," Edwards said.
Tompkins and Chambless were assisting fire crews by dropping retardant on the fire, which has been burning since Friday. Officials said the plane was on its second run when it crashed.
After the crash, fire crews focused on protecting the wreckage, pushing the flames back to allow responders to reach the plane's crew. But due to the size of the blaze, emergency personnel were not able to confirm the injury status of the two men for hours.
"The tanker did go down in the path of the fire and firefighters (had) been aggressively protecting the wreckage from the flames," Edwards said.
The White Rock Fire was started by lightning Friday night near Caliente, Nev. It spread across the Utah state line Saturday and according to the BLM has burned approximately 5,000 acres.
The incident was the third plane crash in Utah in little more than a week. A single-engine aircraft crashed in a remote area of Kane County Tuesday, killing all four people on board. Four other people died May 26, when a single-engine Cessna crashed near the St. George Municipal Airport early Saturday morning.
Sunday's incident marks 15 people who have been killed in plane crashes already this year in Utah, compared to 11 in all of 2011, according to statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board.
So far in 2012, Utah has had 96 fires that have burned more than 14,000 acres. Of those fires, 84 were human caused.
Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said a high volume of dry grasses in the state indicate an active and dangerous fire season, the worst since 2007, he said.
"We're going to be a lot more busy and not just number of ignitions but number of acres burned," Curry said.
The National Weather Service issued a warning on Sunday, saying there's a potential of explosive fire growth over the next two days.
Contributing: John Hollenhorst