After nearly two months of record forest fires from Michigan to California, the U.S. Forest Service added four more leased heavy helicopters to its firefighting fleet this week. The additions include two Sikorsky S-61s from Siller Helicopters, an Erickson S-64 Air-Crane and an S-70 from Firehawk Helicopters.
The USFS said the helicopters will be used for large-fire support and in the initial assault both to drop retardant and support ground crews. The warm spring across parts of the country, combined with continued tree death from beetle infestation, has made for an unusually volatile wildfire season, particularly in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
The USFS’s fleet consists largely of leased fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters contracted under both “exclusive use” and on-call bases. Elements of the current fleet include 14 large airtankers, one ultra-large DC-10 airtanker and 300 type 1, 2, and 3 helicopters that are on call. Earlier this month the USFS let contracts for seven more large airtankers under exclusive-use agreements. The agency is seeking 11 to 21 more.