Firefighting helicopter goes down in Florida lake

Above: photo by Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

A Marion County Sheriff’s Office helicopter went down in a lake during water bucket operations on a wildfire in Florida Tuesday at about 6:30 p.m. In his last radio transmission pilot Sgt. John Rawls said he was going down, then after the helicopter rolled over at least once he exited the ship and swam about 50 yards to shore.

Only the tip of one rotor blade sticking out of the water is visible at the lake now, according to officials. The Sheriff’s Office said the helicopter experienced a malfunction as it was refilling the water bucket.

The Florida Forest Service and Marion County Fire Rescue assisted Sheriff deputies in making a path to the lake with heavy equipment in order to reach the pilot. Sgt. Rawls was transported to the hospital and is currently in stable condition.

The NE 212th Street Road fire is in Marion County, Florida about 20 miles northeast of Ocala. It has been burning for about a month.

map fire helicopter crash florida
Map showing the approximate location of the fire that the helicopter was working on when it crashed.

Sgt. Rawls has been with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office since 1998. He is also an Army helicopter pilot veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Our pilot is OK and, though he does have some injuries, he should be fine,” said Sheriff Billy Woods. “The Marion County Fire Rescue and the Florida Forest Service did an outstanding job in helping us get to our pilot out there in order to get him to the hospital, and I want to thank each of them for the services that they provided to us. We are extremely grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly to make sure Sgt. Rawls got the emergency care he needed.”

Two Aero-Flite scoopers began contracts this week

Two of Aero-Flite’s CL-415 scoopers, Tankers 260 and 263, began the Mandatory Availability Period on their exclusive use contracts on Monday. The company is hoping their other CL-415’s, Tankers 261 and 262, will be awarded call when needed contracts on the scooper solicitation that closed in March.

four CL-415 cody wy
Four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

Aero-Flite also has two RJ85’s actively working on contracts and two others begin in the third week of May. They have one or two others available as call when needed depending on maintenance status.

Aero-Flite's Tanker 161
Aero-Flite’s Tanker 161, an RJ85, at McClellan, March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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.

Portable retardant plant for the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire

Above: Equipment to set up a fire retardant plant arrives at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, June 25, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Don Branum.

While I was scrolling around the internet searching for something obscure I ran across these photos taken while the Waldo Canyon Fire was burning on the west side of Colorado Springs, Colorado in June, 2012. It appears that Phos-Chek was setting up a portable, or transportable, fire retardant plant at the Colorado Springs Airport, which is the home of Peterson Air Force base and the 302nd Airlift Wing.

Peterson is one of four military bases that can each supply two C-130’s outfitted with the slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) that converts the aircraft into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. Two MAFFS-equipped aircraft from the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard at Cheyenne joined the fight along with the Colorado aircraft.

C-130 MAFFS Colorado Springs Waldo Canyon fire
C-130’s being loaded with MAFFS units and configured to help firefighters on the ground suppress the Waldo Canyon Fire which can be seen in the distance, June 24, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Ann Skarban.

On June 25, 2012 the C-130s began flying air tanker missions out of Peterson Air Force Base and the permanent air tanker base at Pueblo Memorial Airport 50 miles to the south.

On June 23, 2012 the Waldo Canyon Fire started in the Pike National Forest southwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado. On June 26 it spread into the Mountain Shadows area of the city. Before the fire was out, it had killed two people and burned 18,000 acres and 347 homes. Reports later revealed a very timid, anemic, and confused initial attack on the fire and serious mismanagement issues during the first two to three days.

Two years later the Black Forest Fire on the other side of Colorado Springs killed two people and burned 489 houses and 14,280 acres, resulting in $420 million in insured losses.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Waldo Canyon Fire.

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

A post shared by Федеральная Авиалесоохрана (@avialesookhrana) on

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.

Interview with a Crew Chief on a C-130 MAFFS air tanker

On April 21, 2017 we interviewed Zach Havel an engine mechanic and former Crew Chief on C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System aircraft. The MAFFS converts the aircraft into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. We talked with him at Boise during the annual MAFFS training and recertification.