Northern Wisconsin forests are experiencing their worst drought in 70 years. The area’s abundant freshwater lakes have receded to record low levels and, although the spring had been unseasonably cold, by the end of May fire danger was high. More than 946 wild fires had consumed over 2,600 acres throughout the state and fire danger in the vast 1.5 million acre Cheqaumegon-Nicolet National Forest was so severe that the U.S.
Clovis, Calif.-based Heavy Lift Helicopters is currently converting the first commercially owned Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallions for firefighting operations. Readying the first “Fire Stallions” for this year’s fire season, Heavy Lift is installing its own 2,400-gallon water tank and snorkel system in one of six 42,000-pound-mtow CH-53Ds the company purchased from the U.S. Navy in spring last year.
Heavy Lift Helicopters is close to finalizing the design of the tank system for its ex-U.S. Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion conversion. However, the U.S. Navy has withdrawn from an agreement to supply up to six airframes that would have provided components to keep the two “Fire Stallions” operational.