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Veteran South Dakota firefighter dies battling wildfire in Northern California

Flames from the Rocky Fire approach a house in Lower Lake, Calif., Friday. More than 5,000 firefighters are now battling large blazes in California; hundreds of residents are under evacuation orders in affected areas.
Flames from the Rocky Fire approach a house in Lower Lake, Calif., Friday. More than 5,000 firefighters are now battling large blazes in California; hundreds of residents are under evacuation orders in affected areas.
File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Update 12:46 p.m. 20 major wildfires burn across the state

With 20 major wildfires burning in California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Friday. Nine of those fires cover areas of at least 1,000 acres; a firefighter from Rapid City, S.D., was killed while battling one of them, in Northern California.

From Los Angeles, Danielle Karson reports:

"The U.S. Forest Service is investigating how David Ruhl died. He was killed while fighting a wildfire in Modoc National Forest.

"A search began Thursday night, when Ruhl couldn't be contacted. His body was found Friday morning. Ruhl was an engine captain from South Dakota's Black Hills National Forest."

Frog Fire Fire Tracker

According to a statement by Gov. Brown, Ruhl "is survived by his wife, Erin, and their two children. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 14 years and previously served in the U.S. Coast Guard."

Ruhl had gone to in California on a temporary assignment that began in June. The governor has ordered that the flags atop the Capitol be flown at half-staff in Ruhl's honor.

As of Saturday, there were nearly 9,000 firefighters working to combat large fires in the state. In declaring a state of emergency, Brown is attempting to speed aid and firefighting resources to the affected areas.

"California's severe drought and extreme weather have turned much of the state into a tinderbox," Brown said. "Our courageous firefighters are on the front lines and we'll do everything we can to help them."

Rocky Fire update

The fire has also also prompted evacuation advisories for hundreds of residents of Lake County.

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9:26 a.m. Veteran South Dakota firefighter dies battling wildfire in Northern California 

Officials in South Dakota's Black Hills National Forest are mourning the death of a U.S. Forest Service firefighter who died while battling a wildfire in Northern California.

Thirty-eight-year-old David Ruhl, of Rapid City, vanished Thursday while fighting a fast-moving blaze in Modoc National Forest. His body wasn't recovered until Friday.

Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien says their "hearts are heavy" for Ruhl's family, friends and others.

Ruhl had been on temporary assignment in California since June.

“This loss of life is tragic and heartbreaking,” Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams said in a statement. “Please keep the family and all of our Forest Service employees in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

In South Dakota, Ruhl was the engine captain on the Mystic Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest.

Ruhl began working for the Forest Service in 2001 as a seasonal forestry technicians. He previously served in the U.S. Coast Guard and as a correctional officer in South Dakota.