A helicopter lowered a line over a mountain stream and came away with a big catch - a bucket packed with more than 450 endangered Gila trout threatened by ash from a huge wilderness fire.
The fish were airlifted about 70 miles to a holding tank, where they will be kept until rainwater flushes ashes out of the stream, a tributary of Mogollon Creek.The ash is from a fire that has burned 6,200 acres so far in the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico. The fire was still burning Wednesday, officials said.
The fish could have suffocated if the stream had become choked by ash, said Paul Boucher, wildlife biologist for the national forest.
A ground team of four game officials went in on horseback and used electrically charged poles with nets to stun the fish and collect them in the big bucket.
When it was all over, 478 of them were flown out, 15 of which died making the trip.
"Everything went pretty well," said fire dispatcher Willie Zapata.
George Divine, fish coordinator for endangered species at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, said fewer than 10,000 Gila trout exist in the wild.