MARIN COUNTY -- The pilot of a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza was killed after crashing north of Hicks Valley near Petaluma on Monday, sparking a 32-acre grass fire.

During the flight from Brookings, Oregon, to San Carlos, the pilot reported engine trouble about 9:30 p.m. and was heading for Gnoss Field in Novato to make an emergency landing.

He was not immediately identified by authorities, but the plane apparently was based in Redwood City.

A grass fire ignited by the crash was contained late Tuesday morning.

Marin County sheriff's deputies began a search for the craft after receiving a report from the California Office of Emergency Services that the pilot was in trouble about seven miles west of Gnoss Field. Radar tracked the craft as it dropped below 600 feet, then lost contact.

Sheriff's Lt. Doug Pittman said heavy fog slowed search efforts in the remote, hilly ranching area between Hicks Valley and Petaluma. Deputies smelled smoke over a wide area and combed the region for several hours before sheriff's deputy Doug Allen spotted a glowing ridge off Hicks Valley Road.

The plane was located about 3 a.m. about a mile north of Marin County's Hicks Valley Fire Station.

"Firefighters arrived to find ... grass and brush burning in multiple canyons and hillsides," county fire Chief Jason Weber reported. "The Marin County Sheriff's Office has confirmed the crash was fatal."

The charred aircraft was found in the middle of the fire area, the chief noted.


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Six engine companies, an ambulance, bulldozer and 25 county firefighters, as well as personnel from other agencies, were at the scene Tuesday morning, and a crew from the National Transportation Safety Board was called in to investigate.