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Drones help hunt for firefighter missing in California forest

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[June 21, 2014]  By Madeleine Thomas
 SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Search and rescue crews used aerial drones on Friday to help hunt for an off-duty firefighter who went missing a week ago when he ran off after his dog while hiking in California's Los Padres National Forest, officials said.

Mike Herdman, 36, was on a camping trip with another off-duty colleague from the Arcadia Fire Department last Friday when he chased his Labrador into the woods barefoot, wearing only a T-shirt and shorts.

Authorities say his dog, Duke, has been spotted by rescuers, and that four searchers have been hurt in the operation to find him, including one bitten on the hand by a rattlesnake.

"A lot of support and a lot of resources have been put into this," said Captain Don Aguilar, spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. "We have teams within the county and neighboring counties. We have a network and we work together. A lot of personnel are committed to this."

The sheriff's department said two unmanned aircraft have been deployed to search from the air, allowing them to cover more ground and get a view of hard-to-reach areas.

The other firefighter raised the alarm on Sunday after taking two days walking out of the forest following Herdman's disappearance near the Tar Creek Trail, some 10 miles (16 km) north of Fillmore town.

Arcadia Fire Department spokeswoman Beth Stogner said fresh search dogs were brought to the area on Friday, but that no new footprints or other clues had so far been found.

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The volunteer who was bitten by the rattlesnake on Thursday is expected to make a full recovery, said Sergeant Eric Buschow of the sheriff's department. "He's in intensive care, but he's stable," Buschow said.

(Reporting by Madeleine Thomas; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Will Dunham)

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