By Ed Jensen, Airport Manager, Hot Springs Municipal Airport, South Dakota
The Hot Springs Municipal Airport has been a busy place this last month. The single engine air tanker (SEAT plane) based out of the Hot Springs Airport during the summer months has been especially busy. Just in the month of July alone, the Wildland Fire Division crew operating it has flown over eighty fire missions within western South Dakota. Wildland Fire was also quite busy with the Indian Canyon Fire by Edgemont, having four planes flying out of our airport to assist in putting that fire out. We are really glad to have them based here in Hot Springs for immediate the fire protection of our area.
Switching gears from firefighting operations at our airport, we also saw an increase of recreation users this last week during the Oshkosh, WI fly-in. Many planes traveling to Oshkosh for the fly in chose to land in Hot Springs for fuel with some renting hangar space for the night. Many also stopped again on their way home to refuel their planes. Separate of the fly-in, we were lucky enough to see a 7/8 scale P-51 Mustang land here on July 30th. For those familiar with aircraft, you know this was a sight to see.
Above: Air tanker 866 drops on the Red Canyon Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
The lightning-caused Red Canyon Fire was reported at 12:45 p.m. MDT on Saturday 9 miles southwest of Pringle, South Dakota but an aggressive attack on the ground and from the air stopped it at 13 acres.
In addition to engines, and water tenders, and four hand crews, at least 10 aircraft joined the battle. We were there for a couple of hours and observed one large air tanker, at least five single engine air tankers, one Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter, a lead plane, an air attack ship, and an Astar B3 helicopter.
In the gallery below, click on an image to see a larger version, then click the arrow buttons.
A few days ago I stopped by the memorial to MAFFS 7 on Highway 18 in South Dakota. It honors the four people that died when the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 air tanker crashed in South Dakota exactly exactly four year ago today. MAFFS 7, from the 145 Airlift Wing in North Carolina, was dropping retardant to slow the spread of the White Draw Fire when it encountered turbulent air and crashed, killing Lt. Col Paul K. Mikeal, 42; Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36; Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, and Senior Master Sgt. Roberts S. Cannon, 50. Two crew members survived but were seriously injured, Loadmasters Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt, and Master Sgt. Joshua Marlowe.
The memorial is still in good shape three years after it was installed. It is approximately 6 miles northeast of Edgemont, SD on Highway 18 near the point of origin of the fire (map) where the motor home that started the blaze caught fire while pulling the grade between Edgemont and Hot Springs. The memorial consists of a gravel parking area with room for about six vehicles and has two interpretive panels — one describing the White Draw Fire and the other covers the accident and the four victims.
On Monday at 4:56 p.m. we shot this photo of Tanker 161, an RJ85, dropping on the Crow Peak Fire southwest of Spearfish, South Dakota. From a distance we saw several air tanker drops by P2V and RJ85 tankers, but only got decent photos of Tanker 161.
At one point on Monday there were four air tankers working out of Rapid City Tanker Base. By the end of the day one had been sent to a fire near Billings, one was relocated somewhere else, and another was down for maintenance.
Two of the scoopers flew in today from an assignment at Gaylord, Michigan.
Above: Air Tanker 262, a CL-415, on the ramp at Rapid City Regional Airport, June 3, 2016. @BlackHillsNF photo.
Two air tankers with water-scooping capabilities are now positioned at Rapid City Regional Airport following an assignment at Gaylord, Michigan. Tankers 261 and 262 can skim the surface of a lake scooping up to 1,600 gallons of water into their tanks. If a scoopable lake is near a fire they can put large quantities of water on the blaze, helping the firefighters on the ground (who actually put out the fire). The CL-415 aircraft typically work in pairs, one following the other as they refill the tanks and make the drops.
The agencies have previously scouted the lakes in the Black Hills and identified locations for the tankers to scoop, including Angostura Reservoir, Keyhole Reservoir, and Deerfield Lake.
The Black Hills National Forest (@BlackHillsNF) sent out a Tweet today asking recreationists to give them a wide birth:
Please allow CL 415 Scooper Planes using a lake or other body of water room to do work in wildfire suppression.
The air tankers are a national resource and are frequently moved around depending on wildfire potential. The assignment at Rapid City is only temporary.
It has been a fairly quiet fire season in the Black Hills so far, but the dispatch center has logged 69 wildland fires this year. Most were less than an acre but three of the more recent were 18, 20, and 193 acres. I imagine the firefighters working on the Storm Hill Fire near Hill City, South Dakota in April would have appreciated a little aerial support.
Above: South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Four blackhawk helicopters and seven South Dakota National guard helicopter crews were put through their paces Friday at Hot Springs Municipal Airport and Angostura Reservoir. The flight crews were evaluated on dipping water from the lake, dropping it across, up, and down slopes, communication with firefighters, and hot refueling.
Firefighters on the ground practiced radio procedures with aviation resources, describing where water drops were needed.
This annual certification is required by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior and allows South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to respond to wildland fires.
In the video below, Ray Bubb of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division describes the annual wildfire training.
The Incident Commander ordered two large air tankers but only one was available.
Above: a Sky Aviation Bell 206L4 (N482TJ) lands at Custer Airport near a Central Copters K-MAX (N115).
On Saturday when the Cold Fire started 8 miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota, no firefighting aircraft were available. The Incident Commander requested an air attack platform, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters, two large air tankers, and one light helicopter. Sunday a P2V departed Chattanooga, Tennessee and most likely cruised at about 200 mph until it arrived in Rapid City at about 3 p.m.
The P2V was not used Sunday, in part because the winds were too strong and turbulent. Two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters dropped water Sunday morning. Three privately owned contracted helicopters became available at the Custer Airport: one K-MAX (Central Copters), one CH-47D Chinook (Billings Flying Service), and a Bell 206L4 (Sky Aviation), but only the 206L4 was used. It dropped numerous loads of water Sunday afternoon while we were there.
We stopped by the Custer, South Dakota airport recently and briefly visited with the helitack crew. Assistant Manager Corey Lewis said the helicopter and personnel spent quite a bit of time this summer in the western states.
Again this year the U.S. Forest Service has an Astar B3 on exclusive use contract.