Multi-State Wildland Fires Stretch Airborne Firefighting Fleets

Multi-State Wildland Fires Stretch Airborne Firefighting Fleets

20-Aug-2013 Source: AHS&AFA

As wildland fires rage across nine far western States in the Continental US, airtanker and helicopter operators are continuing to support ground-based fire fighters, despite heavy demand for aerial assets.

“We have every available aircraft under USFS exclusive use contract working on–or prepared to deploy–to a fire,” said Ron Hooper, Chief Executive Officer of Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula, Montana.  The company’s fleet under contract, he explained, consists of six legacy P2V Neptune tankers, currently based at Sacramento and Redding, California; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and the Oregon Cities of Redmond, Le Grande, and Klamath Falls.  Two BAe 146 aircraft, Neptune Aviation’s new-generation tankers, are stationed in Missoula, Montana and Redmond, Oregon.  As of August 15, the total fleet has flown more than 1,580 hours from those locations, and others, on fires in California, Utah and Oregon, with an availability rate of 98 percent.

“This has been an extremely busy fire season for us,” said Larry Kelley, Manager of West Coast Operations for Construction Helicopters in Boise.  “At this time, we have four aircraft out on fires, including a Bell 205 working on the Beaver Creek fire inIdaho.”

The Bell 205, which is based in Salmon, Idaho, has been engaged on the Beaver Creek fire since August 14.  The fire, which is one of the most destructive this year, has burned over 100,000 acres near the resort area of Sun Valley, and was only about 8 percent contained, as of August 18.

“The 2013 fire season started slowly, but it is now about average at this time of year,” reported Dan Sweet, Director of Public Relations for Portland, Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters.  “Two of our helicopters have been at their present locations for the past two weeks.”

Columbia Helicopters has two Vertol 107-IIs on the Douglas Complex fire in southwestern Oregon, and a similar model on the Butler fire in Hoopa, California.  One of its Chinook helicopters is in fire service near Tieton, in central Washington.

Rick Livingston, President of Inter-Mountain Helicopter, Inc. reported that the Sonora, California-based company’s single aircraft, a Bell 212, is also fighting the Butler fire.

“We have been in the area for the past two weeks, dropping water, and transporting ground-based responders to the fire lines,” he explained.  “Depending on the amount of equipment being carried, we can transport seven to eight passengers.”

Livingston noted that the Butler fire has been especially challenging, given the density of smoke being generated.  “We have flown over 50 hours in the past two weeks.  The heavy smoke has limited the amount of flying we can do,” he said.

“The privately operated aerial firefighting industry in the US continues to prove that it is capable of responding quickly to multiple fires across a large portion of the country,” said Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association.  “With well-maintained aircraft, operated by highly trained crews, this industry is an invaluable tool in what has become a new normal—widespread, more destructive wildland fires, and longer fire seasons.”

Columbia Helicopters, Construction Helicopters, Inter-Mountain Helicopter, and Neptune Aviation Services are members of AHSAFA, the Washington, DC-based trade association representing the commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.

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