Rotor Magazine writes about fighting fire with helicopters

Rotor Magazine’s current issue, Spring 2014, has a five-page article about the use of helicopters on wildfires. It is apparently written for the pilot with little knowledge about what helicopters do on a fire. You can view the issue online, and if you click the “+” at bottom-right, the text will continue to enlarge to the point where you can read it — then you will have to drag the text around as you scan the article.

They used one of my photos that I submitted for their photo contest. It did not win, but they liked it enough to use it in their magazine.

Rotor Magazine, Gabbert's photo
Rotor Magazine, Spring 2014, page 36.

I took the photo June 29, 2012 a few hours after the White Draw Fire started northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota.  It was taken around sunset, in low light with smoke partially blocking the sun. As I panned to follow the helicopter I used a slow shutter speed of 1/40 sec., ISO of 320, and aperture of f/4. The result was a blurred background, and the helicopter is not extremely sharp either — probably the reasons the image did not win a prize in the contest.

You can see a larger version of the photo at Wildfire Today. Two days after the photo was taken MAFFS 7 crashed on the fire, killing four crewmembers and injuring two.

I did not see any large air tankers on the fire on the first day, but there was one Single Engine Air Tanker, plus two Type 3 Helicopters (one from the San Bernardino National Forest in California) and a National Guard Blackhawk. Sometimes I wonder if a more aggressive initial attack with overwhelming force from both the air and the ground would have made a difference, perhaps saving four lives two days later.

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2 thoughts on “Rotor Magazine writes about fighting fire with helicopters”

  1. Dr. Gabbert that is a question that we all ponder at one time or another. Is it fate or could have we intervened some how? As I start fire season year fifty on June 5th in this business I am still haunted by what could we have done to prevent certain wildfire disasters. Money (funding) is certainly a factor in stopping evolving wildfires in the early stages (I.A. period). However as we all have learned to realize that when fire weather (especially winds), topography and fuel moistures are in favor of rapid rates of fire spread little initially can be accomplished. A change in one of these factors needs to occur to stop the “cycle”. I don’t believe there is any data exists that reflects IF we could have delivered an adequate amount of chemically enhanced water to the fire in the very early stages (minutes) the outcome would have been completely different. We work with what economics parameters that are given to us and hope for the best results.

  2. I thought it was well written for pilots as well as non-pilots. It highlighted some of the aspects that makes firefighting different from other types of helicopter flying and also brought into focus the problem with the down time between fires. I found the different ways that each pilot was able to forge a career path interesting, especially those that struggled to build hours, a problem that new pilots find daunting. A pretty accurate article that should encourage others to pursue this career path.

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