A pilot was found dead after his single-engine passenger plane crashed on a ranch north of Hicks Valley on Monday night, sparking a brush fire that consumed 40 acres of hilly terrain before sheriff’s deputies and firemen discovered it in the wee hours Tuesday. The Marin County Communications Center received the first clues to the crash at 9:30 p.m., when the Federal Aviation Administration said it lost contact with the plane after the pilot, whose identity has not been released, reported engine failure and said he would attempt to land at the Novato airport. The plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza 35 (a six-seater with a signature V-shaped tail) was traveling from Brookings, Ore. to San Carlos, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. It was last tracked by radar and emergency beacon about seven miles west of Novato, before dropping below 600 feet, said Doug Pittman, the county’s public information officer and representative on the North Bay emergency management team, adding that heavy fog hampered the overnight search. But by 8 a.m. Tuesday the fire was 75 percent contained, with 25 firefighters still battling the blaze. Sometime overnight, the wreckage of the plane was found in the burned vegetation, and the body of the pilot found near the fuselage. Lt. Pittman declined to give the exact location of the crash.