Helicopter drop on the Jameson Fire in California

Above: Helicopter drops on the Jameson Fire in Temescal Valley in California, April 30, 2017. CAL FIRE/Riverside County FD photo.

This is a spectacular photo of a helicopter dropping on the Jameson Fire in southern California’s Temescal Valley, April 30, 2017.

The first arriving engine company reported approximately five acres in a drainage with heavy fuels. The fire was contained at 7:30 PDT on Monday after burning 12.5 acres.

Erickson emerges from bankruptcy

Above: An Erickson Air-Crane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Erickson Incorporated, known to wildland firefighters for their Air-Crane helicopters that can carry up to 2,500 gallons of water, has emerged from bankruptcy after declaring for Chapter 11 on November 8, 2016. Soon after the company purchased Evergreen Helicopters and Air Amazonia and their 78 aircraft in 2012 and 2013 the bottom fell out of the oil exploration industry and they lost military and firefighting contracts. Suddenly finding themselves no longer a small business Erickson lost their eligibility to compete for U.S. Forest Service firefighting contracts.

President and CEO Jeff Roberts said on April 28, 2017, “We are very pleased to have completed our financial restructuring in such an efficient and timely manner. Chapter 11 allowed us to achieve rationalization of our aircraft fleet and deliver our balance sheet by over $400 million in debt. We are exiting the restructuring process with significant available liquidity to fund the company’s present and future business opportunities.” Mr. Roberts continued, “With a stronger financial foundation and reduced cost structure, we are well positioned under the new business model to fund our operations and to further develop and expand our business in order to better serve our customers and enhance value for all stakeholders for years to come.”

Mr. Roberts said the company will move forward as a privately-held small business, effective immediately.

Susan Bladholm, a spokesperson for Erickson, told us that they currently have 20 Air-Cranes, but could not comment on the potential to bid on or obtain firefighting contracts since the company is under new ownership and some issues still need to be worked out.

Photo of Russian firefighters mobilized for a fire in Siberia

По обращению Правительства Бурятии об оказании помощи в удержании под контролем лесопожарной обстановки, оперативный штаб Рослесхоза направил 50 авиапожарных ФБУ «Авиалесоохрана» на тушение лесных пожаров в регионе #ПДПС#парашютисты#десантники#пожарные#помощь#Бурятия#нацпарк#Тункинский#поджогисухойтравы#проблема#нарушение#Россия#Сибирь#мера#недопустить#лес#Авиалесоохрана#Avialesookhrana#Берегилес#smokejumpers#СМИ#ТВ

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About 50 wildland firefighter in Russia were mobilized to assist with a wildfire in Buryatia, a mountainous Russian republic in eastern Siberia.

Below is the Google translation of the image’s caption:

Avialesookhrana According to the appeal of the Government of Buryatia to assist in keeping the fire situation under control, the operational headquarters of the Federal Forestry Agency sent 50 air firefighters “Avialesoohrana” to extinguish forest fires in the region
# PAPC # paratroopers # paratroopers # firefighters # help # Buryatia # national park # Tunkinsky # arsons of dry grass # problem # violation # Russia # Siberia # measure # not # forest # Avialesookhrana # Avialesookhrana # Berehiles # smokejumpers # media # TV

And while we’re on the subject of airborne firefighters, back in America:

Unable to fill requests for air tankers increased in 2016

In 2016 there was an increase in the percentage of requests for large air tankers that went unfilled, increasing from 10 percent in 2015 which was the lowest since 2009, to 13.4 percent in 2016.

Counting the U.S. Forest Service HC-130H air tanker there was a maximum of 21 large and very large air tankers on exclusive use contracts in 2016. However, the two Erickson MD-87 aircraft were not available for most of the year due to problems with the retardant system. The company claims they have fixed the issue and they should be ready to go this summer. A few other call when needed (CWN) large and very large air tankers were activated for weeks at a time in 2016. Unless new contracts for CWN air tankers are issued that will be effective this year, the number of available air tankers in 2017 should be about the same. A new exclusive use contract is expected to be in effect in 2018.

Tanker 12 Trailhead Fire
Tanker 12 on the Trailhead Fire. A Cobra helicopter is in the background. Photo July 1, 2016 by Matthew Rhodes.

The number of acres burned in the lower 49 states (which excludes Alaska) was virtually the same in 2015 and 2016, with both being pretty close to average. There were also few extended fire sieges involving multiple large fires occurring at the same time that required a high number of air tankers. Having the fires spread out over time minimizes the number of air tanker requests that go unfilled.

wildfire acres per year
The number of acres burned in wildfires in the lower 49 states (excludes Alaska).

Here are some of the Unable to Fill numbers we computed from the data reported by the National Interagency Fire Center for 2016:

  • Type 1 and 2 large air tankers: 13.4%
  • Single Engine Air Tankers: 21.1%
  • Type 1 helicopters: 12.3%
  • Type 2 helicopters: 8.6%
  • Type 3 helicopters: 8.3%

There were only seven requests for MAFFS air tankers, and all were filled.

Rappel academy hosts 110 participants at John Day, Oregon

About 110 firefighters attended the Rappel training held at John Day, Oregon April 17-21. Four Bell 205’s were there: N510WW, N669H, N933CH, and N205DY.

These excellent photos were taken by Todd McKinley. Thanks Todd!

Rappel training John Day Oregon Rappel training John Day Oregon Rappel training John Day Oregon Rappel training John Day Oregon

Firehawks in Boise

I was driving by the Boise airport this week and discovered that Firehawk Helicopters has a facility in the area. They were mostly closed, only Tori the receptionist was in the building, but I talked on the phone with Director of Maintenance Josh Ricciardi who said it was OK if I shot a few photos in their hangar. The Blackhawks ships were all receiving maintenance, getting ready for the fire season. 

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

California National Guard helicopter training, 2017

The creation of the “Baseline Skunk Works” and the interaction with private industry led to many advances in helicopter water buckets.

By John Yount

(All photos are from the 2017 helicopter water bucket training, shot by Bob Martinez, a Volunteer in Prevention Photographer with CAL FIRE)

California’s annual Army National Guard helicopter water bucket training took place this year near Sutter Creek, California. National Guard and Air Force helicopters from Mather (Blackhawks), Stockton (Chinooks), and Moffet (Pavehawks) participated in the training over the three-day period. Classroom sessions, water drops, and the inevitable exchange of information among personnel will help facilitate a smooth activation when the aviation assets are needed.

California national guard fire helicopter trainingThere is much more to this story than just an annual training. The interaction of the Military and State of California has spanned over half a century.  This cooperative spirit has been the success of the program. Although the Guard and Air Force Reserve have their own mission agendas it is the history of the Guard and CAL FIRE working together during the wet months that has contributed to a significant enhancement in fire bucket reliability, versatility, and performance.

With the introduction of the CAL FIRE (then CDF) Military Helicopter Manager (MLHM) program in California in the late 1990’s it was deemed  important that a CDF aviation person be assigned to each helicopter during an activation. Flying with the Guard, CAL FIRE personnel work as part of a team providing tactical input, complete logistical support, and coordination with the Guard and CAL FIRE command centers.

California national guard fire helicopter training

Development of new helicopter water bucket technology

At the beginning of the MLHM program it was quickly identified that the rigid 2000 gallon Big Dipper buckets and the special production for the Guard  of a 1140 gallon Bambi Bucket needed to be addressed. The lead CDF person approached CDF management with a plan to initiate an updated program with respect to working with the Guard. One of the four components of the plan was to work on the buckets. A phone call to SEI (Bambi) saw an immediately response. Two SEI representatives, the general manager, and chief engineer came to California to work with CDF and the Stockton Guard to make a change.

The following fire season a new generation 2,000 gallon Bambi Bucket was presented to the CDF and Guard for testing during that fire season that became very active. The 2,000 gallon Bambi bucket was put to the test. From the lava beds of the Modoc National Forest to Southern California in a three week period the redesigned Bambi delivered 1.6 gallons of foam enhanced water flawlessly.  The interaction between the Guard, CDF and Bambi wasn’t just a business model but evolved into a “can do” chemistry that saw the development of many new Bambi products.  The hub for new products was the CDF’s Baseline Helibase/Heliport and Fire Camp near Jamestown, California, unofficially known as the Baseline Skunk Works. The next five years saw the development of numerous fire suppression products for helicopters.

California national guard fire helicopter training

One of the concerns of using the larger 2,000 gallon Bambi Bucket was the inability to pick up a full bucket of water in a source less than five feet deep. A skilled inmate work team of four directed by CDF personnel at Baseline started a Bambi modification of a 324 gallon Bambi with SEI providing a submergible pump.  Intermountain Helicopters of Columbia, California provided the copter that would test this 324 gallon “power fill” Bambi while pumping from a 1,000 gallon pumpkin tank. With SEI on site during testing this was the beginning of the power fill bucket era.

A second Baseline Skunk Tank project was to develop a multi-variable drop valve for the buckets. Two prototypes were made. One was divided into two separate chambers, with each having a small rubber valve allowing the load to be split. It was the Stockton Guard that came to Baseline (about 10 minutes from Stockton) and flew a helicopter with the modified bucket.

The second prototype used compressed air to open and close a carburetor butterfly valve. Again the Stockton Guard provided the Chinook, which is an external/internal cargo hauler. Instead of flying a four ton concrete slab around for external flight training the external load training hours were used to practice and develop new ideas in aerial fire fighting.  With SEI working with the Guard and CDF a clearer picture of understanding the needs of the aerial fire fighting community evolved.  Products like the SEI Torrentula Valve with power fill became part of SEI’s product line. Today ninety percent of the California Guard  Chinook helicopter buckets have been equipped with these valves and pumps.

The concept of a portable water tank of over 10,000 gallons was imagined at the Baseline Skunk Works.  SEI was contacted and liked the idea. Within two months the first Heliwell arrived at Baseline. Although the Guard wasn’t used to dipping from the Heliwell, the “test to destruction” was accomplished by dropping 2,000 gallons of water into the well’s opening from fifty feet. The tank performed as designed, a tribute to SEI engineering and manufacturing.

The next project for the Guard and CDF was how to fill from a small or shallow water source, as many of the water dip sites for helicopters in arid California are less than four feet in depth. A manufacturing company, TMR Fabrications in Merced, California was contacted. The idea was to build an external rectangular tank that could be transported inside a Chinook. The tank needed to be capable of being loaded and unloaded in less than ten minutes The TMR Water Rat Tank was built with input from the CDF Baseline Skunk Works and the Stockton Guard. What evolved was a self-contained 1,800 gallon water tank powered by a twelve horsepower engine driving a snorkel pump at the end of a twelve foot 5 inch hose.  The Water Rat filled to capacity in less than a minute. The “Rats” dump valve could release a partial load or all the water in less than 8 seconds. Once again the Guard flew the tank under a Chinook and was able to use it at no charge.

California national guard fire helicopter trainingOne of the significant features of the Water Rat was the safety of redundant slings, connecting to the Chinooks fore and aft hooks. This was a great safety feature in case of an accidental hook release. This project led to a military self-contained 2,000 gallon internal Chinook water tank that discharges the entire load in less than 8 seconds.

Other projects that came from the Imagineers at the Skunk Works included the Marine Recovery Device (MRD) and  the first Fire Sock initially built by Intermountain Helicopters fabric shop.  A 10 gallon foam concentrate system for the Chinook designed at the Skunk Works and built by SEI came in two models, gravity and pressure demand.

Although this year’s training near Sutter Creek was just part of the preparation for the upcoming 2017 fire season, the relationship between the CAL FIRE and the Guard over the decades have made a significant contribution to helicopter fire fighting products word wide.

Norwegians use a Bambi Bucket to fill a pumpkin

Check out this video, in which teamwork pays off in Norway when you’re using a helicopter and a 766-gallon Bambi Bucket to fill a portable water storage tank, or “pumpkin”.

Via Bambi Bucket.