The Bell UH-1H helicopter was dropping water on the Hills Fire when it crashed in rugged terrain.By CBSLA Staff

NEAR FRESNO (CBSLA) – A pilot for a private helicopter company based out of Ventura County was killed in a chopper crash near Fresno Wednesday morning while battling a wildfire there. The crash itself also sparked its own fire.

A map of the crash site. Aug. 19, 2020. (Fresno County Sheriff’s Office)

The Bell UH-1H helicopter was dropping water on the 1,500-acre Hills Fire when it crashed in rugged terrain about nine miles south of the city of Coalinga, according to CAL Fire. The pilot and only person aboard died.

Fresno County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue crews recovered the pilot’s body Wednesday evening. He was identified as 52-year-old Michael John Fournier of Rancho Cucamonga.

The chopper belonged to Guardian Helicopters, based in Fillmore. Guardian Helicopters told CBSLA in an email that Fournier was a married father of two.

Guardian Helicopters had a firefighting contract with CAL Fire.

An undated photo of Michael Fournier. (Fresno County Sheriff’s Office)

According to KFSN-TV, the crash sparked a fire which grew to 50 acres and eventually merged with the Hills Fire.

Fournier’s father Jack says his son’s scrappiness was on display back when had to figure out how to pay for flying lessons.

“When he first got started, he would ride down to the hanger, work for an hour and get an hour of ground school,” he said. “He wanted to fly when he was six years old so he just had that drive.”

That drive was passed on to his two daughters, who weren’t shy about bragging about their dad.

“I was always excited when people asked what my dad did,” said daughter Mikena. “I was always so proud him. And I hope he knows that.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.

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