Investigation launched after crew member dies helping with Napa fires

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A private contractor on the front lines of the Nuns Fire was killed Monday morning when his truck plunged off a steep roadway. The accident is under investigation and the driver's identity has still not been released. (KGO-TV)

They are in many ways the unsung heroes of the North Bay firefights, civilian water tender drivers.

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Whether the Tubbs, the Nuns or the Atlas fires, the civilian water tender drivers have been side by side with Calfire crews, refilling their wildland rigs, often within a few yards of active fire and flame.

"It's a critical piece of the component of the entire fire operation," said David Shew with Calfire. "We rely on these type of equipment in order to water up in these remote areas for firefighters to fill their engines."

This morning, one of those critical drivers lost his life after his truck plunged off the side of the Oakville Grade, on its way down to refill its water tank in support of the firefighters trying to knock down the stubborn Nuns Fire above Oakville.

Captain Chris Child with the Napa CHP wouldn't speculate about the cause. "We'll be looking at things such as evidence in the road," explained Childs, "tire friction marks, gauge marks, wheel stamping which is indicative of a vehicle rolling on its side, how far it went down the hill."

All of the water tender drivers who contract with CalFire must complete an annual safety course in wildland fire attack, as well as have the proper radios and equipment to work in sync with CalFire and municipal fire crews.

The rig involved in this morning's accident is registered to a small company, Tehama Transport in Red Bluff. The driver's identity has not been released pending notification of his family.

Our hearts go out to the family and friends impacted by this," said CalFire's Chris Anthony. "It impacts all of us."

Click here for full coverage of the North Bay fires.

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