After nearly two months of record forest fires from Michigan to California, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) added four more leased heavy helicopters to its firefighting fleet in late June. The additions include two Sikorsky S-61s from Siller Helicopters, an Erickson S-64 Air-Crane and an S-70 from Firehawk Helicopters. A spokesman for Erickson said that last year the company had six helicopters flying USFS contracts; this year that number is eight. 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.
Modular Airborne FireFighting System
With the recent wildfires in Northern California reaching historic proportions, the human toll rose as a helicopter ferrying an 11-member firefighting crew from the front lines crashed on August 5, resulting in nine fatalities (see story on facing page).
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.