A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report obtained by AIN through the agency’s safety management system details how a Bell 205A1++ pilot (name withheld) supporting Oregon’s Pole Creek fire-suppression efforts on September 28 saved another firefighter who became trapped by the blaze.
“The downed trees that had not burned were now igniting, and the heat was intense,” the pilot reported. “I monitored [my ground contact’s] position along the fire’s edge watching for his orange tarp.” The winds shifted and picked up speed. “I told him I had only 30 minutes of fuel. I made two more [water] drops into the area, but the fire was so intense I was having little effect,” the pilot’s report continued.
“My contact was now within 500 feet of the face of the raging fire. I could see the waves of heat actually shimmering. A 200- to 300-yard wide wall of trees ignited and then lit the next row of trees. My ground contact centered in this wall…was in grave danger. The fire was moving much faster than he was with no way out. [I realized] the fire would have been on him before I could attempt another bucket drop. I saw a small opening in the trees to hover without damaging the helicopter and lowered the bucket thinking we had only a few seconds or minutes left. I am sure he could feel the fire, because I certainly could. He climbed into the bucket and I lifted it and him, flying north, perhaps one-quarter mile to an open area. I carefully lowered the bucket to the ground and he got out and walked to the nearby trail. I looked back at the spot where I’d picked him up and it was fully torched.”