HELENA (AP) - A fire engine and a pickup truck collided on a Montana highway, causing an explosion and fire that killed a family of five and a volunteer fire chief, authorities said. There were no survivors.
The wreckage "was just all melted together" in the blaze Thursday night, Jefferson County sheriff's Deputy Bob Gleich said.
The fire engine driven by Three Forks Volunteer Fire Department Chief Todd Rummel was heading east on U.S. Highway 12 when it collided with the westbound pickup about 10 miles east of Helena, forcing both vehicles into a ditch, authorities said.
Killed in the pickup were a Helena couple and their three young children, Montana Highway Patrol Capt. Gary Becker said. Their names and ages were not immediately released.
It could be weeks before investigators determine the cause of the crash, he said.
Jason Shrauger, fire chief in Bozeman, said the crash was devastating to Rummel's colleagues and the community of Three Forks, a town of about 2,000 people 30 miles northwest of Bozeman at the headwaters of the Missouri River.
Shrauger said he knew Rummel through regular contact over the past several years during training and planning sessions for Gallatin County firefighters.
"He was a go-getter. He loved the fire service and every waking moment was thinking about how he could improve the department he was a member of," Shrauger said.
Rummel, 44, was alone in the fire engine, driving it back to Three Forks after it was repaired in Helena. He had been with the department since 2006 and was named fire chief last month.
A native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he worked as an auto mechanic and also served as a volunteer fire chief, Rummel was known as a mentor to other firefighters, said Jim Young, a firefighter from Milford Township, Pennsylvania.
"That was his life. He was very dedicated," Young said. "But talking to him years ago, his dream was to move out there" to Montana.
By Friday morning, wreckage from the collision had been towed away and all that remained was charred earth and a flag where there was once debris.
A memorial page was set up for Rummel on Facebook, drawing numerous postings. Shrauger said Rummel had a girlfriend and no children.
Three Forks is located at the site where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin rivers meet to form the Missouri, It was a stopping point in 1806 for the expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.