A pilot killed Monday night when his small plane crashed into a west Novato field may have been headed for home in Redwood City when his plane began to have engine trouble, according to law enforcement officials.

The crash in Hicks Valley started a grass fire that burned 32 acres through the night. Firefighters expected to have the fire fully contained by late Tuesday afternoon, Marin County Fire Chief Jason Webber said.

The pilot, who has not been identified, had been flying a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza plane from Brookings, Ore., to San Carlos.

It appears the plane crashed at about 9:30 p.m., around the time radar contact was lost with the aircraft, Marin County Sheriff’s Lt. Doug Pittman said.

Just before the plane disappeared from radar, the pilot had contacted the Federal Aviation Administration in Oakland and reported that he was having engine trouble and was going to try to land at Novato’s Gnoss Field.

Air traffic controllers tracked the plane to about 7 miles west of the small airport when it apparently dropped under 600 feet and was no longer visible on radar.

Two ranchers in the Hicks Valley area later told deputies that at about 9:30 p.m. they noted a very low-flying plane overhead but said they didn’t hear a crash, Pittman said.

Marin and Sonoma county sheriff’s deputies were alerted at about 11 p.m. of the missing plane and that a distress beacon from a plane had been activated, Pittman said.

A Sonoma County deputy searched the Highway 37 corridor until about 12:30 a.m., said Sgt. Cecile Focha, Sonoma County sheriff’s spokeswoman.

In Marin County, Pittman, who heads the department search and rescue team, and two deputies began combing west Marin roadways. At one point the searchers smelled smoke, but the dense fog obscured any smoke and prevented search helicopters from helping.

Pittman said they drove for about three hours along the winding northwest Marin roads, periodically getting whiffs of smoke.

Just after 3 a.m., Marin Deputy Doug Allen spotted a small glow, then flames on a ridge off Hicks Valley Road, near the Marin- Sonoma county line.

Inside the burned area was the wrecked and burned plane. The body of a man, believed to be the pilot, was found near the fuselage, Pittman said.

The location of the crash, on a private ranch, corresponded with the last known location of the plane, officials said.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were due at the scene Tuesday afternoon.

Marin County coroner’s investigators also were investigating the death.