While some have said the National Interagency Fire Center responded slowly to the very busy wildfire activity that started March 6 in the central plains where about a million acres burned in a few days, eventually they did take action.
In an effort to mobilize a Type 1 helicopter they contacted Columbia Helicopters who had one on display at a helicopter convention.
“This is the first time we have received a resource order for firefighting duty, while displaying our helicopter at a convention,” said Keith Saylor, Director, Commercial Operations, for the Portland, Oregon-based company. Reached by phone at the Helicopter Association International (HAI) convention in Dallas, Saylor explained that transitioning the helicopter, from a static display to a mission-ready firefighting aircraft, involved removing the rotor blades, exiting the convention center, then reinstalling the rotor blades. This was followed by a flight to a nearby airport for refueling and overnighting. Called up on March 9, the helicopter was deployed the following day to Ardmore, Oklahoma, under an optional use clause of a US Forest Service (USFS) exclusive use contract. The helicopter was dispatched with two pilots, five mechanics and ground support equipment drivers.
A former US Army-operated CH47D Chinook, the helicopter was modified by Columbia Helicopters with a 2,800 gallon capacity internal tank for water, jells, foam, or retardant dropping, and had been flown to the convention following firefighting duty on East Coast fires.
Also responding to the fires, Neptune Aviation Services dispatched three of its BAe-146 air tankers to multiple locations, according to Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer for the Missoula, Montana-headquartered company. Three of the tankers were dispatched from Missoula between March 9 and 11, and flown to USFS tanker bases in Ardmore, Oklahoma, Abilene, Texas, and the Rocky Mountain Regional Airport, near Denver, Colorado. A fourth BAe 146 tanker will continue to fly out of a base at Lake City, Florida, where it has been on duty since February 20.
On March 16 Neptune mobilized T-05, the first of their P2V piston engine tankers to start an assignment this year, which will probably be the model’s last season as the company completes their transition to the jet-powered BAe-146 airframe.