Summer means fire season, and Columbia Helicopters’ tandem-rotor Chinooks and Vertols have already been dispatched to their bases, primarily throughout the Western U.S., under contracts with the U.S. Forest Service.
LOCKHEED C-130A, WALKER, CALIF., JUNE 17, 2002–Engaged in a firefighting mission near Walker, the four-engine turboprop broke apart during a low-altitude run to deliver its fire-retardant load. All three crewmembers were killed and the aircraft was destroyed.
The helicopter division of Kaman Aerospace (Booth No. 2447) announced that it is offering a second water tank option for K-Max helicopter operators. The Bloomfield, Conn.-based company will continue to offer the Kawak Aviation Technologies 700-gallon fixed-tank system, but operators can now also opt for an FAA-certified fixed-tank system from Isolair Helicopter Systems.
BELL B206L-3, WHITERIVER, ARIZ., JULY 26, 2003–At 10:34 a.m. MST Bell Long-Ranger N6184D, operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) at Fort Apache Indian Reservation under Part 91, was destroyed after crashing near Whiteriver. The commercial pilot and one passenger died in the crash and two passengers were seriously injured.
Despite the media attention on the Montana fires last summer and Southern California fires in October, last year’s fire season didn’t come even close to being the worst in recent times, according to statistics generated by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) of Boise, Idaho.
Some forest fires start with a blast of jagged lightning, incinerating the dry timber and flinging the flaming fragments into the tinder-dry underbrush from which flames soon reach skyward.
“We need the Mars! Get the Mars!” shouts a frantic firefighter over the VHF fire frequency. A wildfire is racing up a hillside on the eastern fringe of Osoyoos, B.C., Canada, and seems certain to engulf a house in its path. Helicopters are bucketing water onto the flames in an effort to slow the fire’s advance, but still the flames leap up the side of the valley unimpeded.
Last year was something of a landmark in helicopter firefighting activity. During one of the driest summers on record in the northern hemisphere, rotorcraft were deployed for long periods–often to areas where they had not been needed before–to stem the progress of flames.
Eurocopter AS 350-B3, Yellow Pine, Idaho, Aug. 13, 2006–The AS 350 was destroyed and the commercial pilot and three passengers killed when the helicopter crashed 18 miles west of Yellow Pine. The helicopter was being operated by Evergreen Helicopters, of McMinnville, Ore., under contract to the U.S. Forest Service. The helicopter had flown from Krassel Helibase to take a relief fire lookout to Williams Peak lookout tower.
In the aftermath of last fall’s California wildfires–the state’s most destructive ever–a “blue ribbon” commission last month heard tacit admission that a state rule requiring firefighting aircraft to land a half-hour before sunset may have allowed a controllable blaze to become a huge, deadly conflagration.