Helicopter pilot honored for assisting entrapped fire crew

Gary Dahlen award

A helicopter pilot was honored Tuesday for assisting a hand crew that deployed fire shelters on the King Fire east of Placerville, California. This is the way it was described on CAL FIRE’s Facebook page:

Pilot Gray Dahlen received an award from the USFS, for his heroic actions on the King Fire. The pilot rescued a CAL FIRE Hand Crew and a CAL FIRE Dozer Operator from harm’s way.

The hand crew and dozer operator were constructing fire line when they were overrun by the fire. The pilot flew down to a lower level to direct the hand crew and dozer operator down a road. Once Pilot Dahlen found an open area to land he and another helicopter pilot landed and flew the crew out to a safe area.

These photos that accompanied the brief report did not have any descriptions, nor were the individuals in the photos identified. (Very unprofessional, CAL FIRE.)

We listened to the live radio traffic during the incident-within-an-incident on September 15 and live blogged about it as the emergency developed. Later we found out that the crew was a CAL FIRE inmate crew.

Below is an excerpt from our live reporting that day:

At 1:27 we wrote:

At about 1 p.m. PDT on Monday there was a fire shelter deployment on the King Fire, which is burning 11 miles east of Placerville, California north of the community of Pollock Pines. In listening to the radio traffic, a Division Supervisor talking to Air Attack said a Task Force was overrun by fire — they were in a safety zone, but they were safe. He requested air support, but there was too much smoke for fixed wing air tankers to get in to the area.

Air Attack, as of 1:15 p.m. PDT was checking to see if helicopters could work the area, but when the incident unfolded they were all on the ground getting fuel. Later at about 1:25 p.m. PDT at least one helicopter with water was over the incident watching firefighters running, carrying fire shelters. The pilot was holding on to his water in case there was a major need for it later. He was giving the firefighters directions, saying “keep moving”.

One alternative considered was to extract the firefighters using a water bucket carried by a helicopter.

Someone else on the fire said they had five vehicles that were available to rescue the trapped firefighters, but the road to the area had just been overrun by a very intense fire and they were advised by a pilot to not try it.

There was also a report on the radio of a dozer that burned up, but there was “accountability for the operator”.

We continued providing live updates until the crew had been extracted by helicopters.

After the above, most of the radio communications we heard that was with the hand crew, was from the Helicopter Coordinator (HLCO). Only rarely could we hear the crew on the ground. The HLCO was escorting the crew as they ran and walked to a safe area, giving them frequent encouragement and directions about where to go. He arranged for drinking water to be delivered to the crew before they reached a spot where they could be extracted by helicopters.

From the first report of the emergency until they were in the helicopters, about two hours elapsed.

Gary Dahlen award

Helicopter King Fire

4 thoughts on “Helicopter pilot honored for assisting entrapped fire crew”

  1. Congratulations to Gary for his work. It is also heartening to see that rescue by water bucket is seen as a possible option in an entrapment situation… as it should be.

  2. Job well done. Always nice having those birds above, gives you quite a bit of reassurance. Thanks to all the pilots, ground crews and command keeping the eyes in the sky watching out for the boots on the ground!

  3. Gary Bailey flew with your brother, Craig, at Armco Steel at Middletown. Congratulations on a job well done. You earned it.

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