Private Aerial Firefighters Contributing To Los Angeles County Fire Containment

AHSAFA | September 9, 2009

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 57 seconds.

Aerial firefighting companies from as far away as Atlanta are working with ground forces to contain the devastating Station Fire still sweeping Los Angeles County. The fire has scorched more than157,220 acres or 246 square miles to date.

“We have been told by the Los Angeles County Fire Department that this is the worst fire in the history of that agency,” said Tracy Weaver, Director of Aerial Services for Central Point, Oregon-based Erickson Air-Crane. The operator has three of its Sikorsky S64 helicopters, and 35 support personnel on-site. We are assigning crews to meet the heavy demands of this fire, without exceeding pilot flight hours under US Forest Service regulations.”

“Right now, we have four helicopters in Southern California, and of that, two are on the Station Fire,” said Scotty Runyan, Special Projects Manager for Helicopter Express in Atlanta. As Runyan noted, one of the helicopters is a recently acquired Bell 214B1, with a lifting capacity of 420 gallons of water or fire retardant. A Bell 212, already based in Chilao, California, was deployed to the fire at the outset. “In comparison to May and June, I would say the Station Fire has increased our flying hours by nearly 100 percent”.

Aero Union Corporation, which operates a fleet of eight Lockheed-Martin P3 Orion fixed wing airtankers, sent four to the Station Fire. According to Britt Gourley, the Chico, California-based company’s CEO, the severity of the fire demanded additional staffing. “We increased the number of mechanics from four to seven for this fire,” Gourley stated. “We usually don’t have that many assigned to a specific fire, but given its size; we felt we had to do this. Our aircraft availability continues to average 99 percent.”

Currently, all nine of Neptune Aviation’s Lockheed-Martin P2V Neptune airtankers are actively involved in aerial wildland firefighting. Of that number, five are deployed on the Station Fire, according to Mike Pfau, the Missoula, Montana-headquartered company’s Public Information Officer. “Four are flying out of Lancaster and one from San Bernardino.

The Station Fire, which began during the last week of August, significantly accelerated what had been a slow fire season in California and much of the Far West, as some participants in the Station Fire have observed.

“We are seeing increased fire activity in Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, and New Mexico, because the monsoon rains, which are normal for this time of year haven’t happened,” said Stuart Taft, assistant chief pilot for Hillcrest Aviation in Lewiston, Idaho. Taft reported that one of the company’s Bell 205 helicopters, along with support staff, was deployed from Reno, Nevada, to Hemet, California, to fly on the Station Fire.

“We are very active in the Western States right now, compared to a few months ago,” said Robin Rogers, vice-president of Rogers Helicopters in Clovis, California. For the Station Fire, the company has a fixed wing, Turbine Commander, operating in an air attack coordinator role.

Dan Riches, Flight Operations Administrator for Columbia Helicopters in Portland, Oregon, reported that the company is concentrating resources in Southern California, well before the Santa Ana winds pick up, which is the most dangerous part of the fire season. “This year has shown us how hard it is to predict the start and end of fire seasons,” he said. “It makes it challenging to make long range plans for use of the aircraft.”

Aero Union, Columbia Helicopters, Erickson Air-Crane, Helicopter Express, Hillcrest Aircraft Company, Neptune Aviation, and Rogers Helicopters are all AHSAFA members. AHSAFA is the Washington-based trade association representing the private operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft before the US Department of Agriculture-Forest Service; the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management; the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Fish and Wildlife Service; the National Park Service; and various State wild land firefighting agencies. The association represents its members on Capitol Hill by working with key Congressional offices for the promotion of aerial firefighting industry needs, and support, and at key government agency meetings to monitor and provide input on issues impacting the aerial firefighting industry. AHSAFA also interfaces with other trade groups with common interests.

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