Two CHP helicopter crews rescued 42 people during the North Bay fires

The October, 2017 fires were driven by winds gusting over 80 mph

California Highway Patrol helicopter
California Highway Patrol helicopter on routine patrol. CHP photo

During the disastrous wildfires that tore through large swaths of the North Bay area of California in October, 2017 two California Highway Patrol helicopter crews heroically rescued 42 residents who were trapped when roads became blocked  by fallen trees as winds gusted above 80 mph. One of the helicopters was based in Napa crewed by flight officer Whitney Lowe and pilot Pete Gavitte. A second helicopter joined them from Redding with Officers Chad Millward and Phil Agdeppa. The rescues were conducted at night with the benefit of night vision goggles.

An article at Patch.com has the details. Here is an excerpt:

“What started our rescue efforts was listening to the radio and hearing that there is nobody coming for these people, and then seeing the different blockades in the road, from downed trees to downed wires, and lines of cars that were stopped and entrapped,” Lowe said.

“We were looking from above; having the perfect view of the fire headed their direction … and thinking ‘They have no idea,'” he said.

Once they found somewhere suitable to land, Lowe recalls jumping out of the helicopter and running a quarter-mile down to a line of cars full of people trapped by fire.

“I started telling the people in cars, ‘There is a huge fire and it’s coming this direction, you guys are trapped in three different places between here and safety at the bottom of the hill. If you guys want, come up to the helicopter and we’ll start evacuating you guys.’ And so that is what we did.”

In groups of one to four, multiple families were flown to safety at Monticello Road and Atlas Peak Road. When fire encroached that area, the families were evacuated to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.

“That is what we did for the next 8-1/2 hours,” Lowe said. “We never shut the helicopter off, just refueled.”

“Throughout the night we were able to rescue 26 people, and they [the Redding crew] were able to rescue another 16 people,” Lowe said.

After the smoke cleared the four officers received multiple medals of valor.

Map Tubbs, Nuns, Atlas Fires
Map of the Tubbs, Nuns, and Atlas Fires October 13, 2017.
California Highway Patrol helicopter
A California Highway Patrol helicopter performs a different type of rescue. CHP photo

Can a Firehawk land on a basketball court?

The answer, at least for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, appears to be yes.

Helicopters at the Cow Creek Fire

Above: Helicopters at the Cow Creek Fire October 17, 2019. Photo by the incident management team.

Two helicopters working on the 655-acre Cow Creek Fire were photographed at the helibase October 17, 2019. The ship in the foreground, N132BH, is a Eurocopter AS 350 B3 registered to BHI Helicopters out of Ontario, Oregon. A third helicopter is also assigned to the fire.

The Cow Creek Fire is 9 miles east of Ridgway, Colorado. The photo was taken before three spot fires 0.75 away from the main fire took off near the western base of Courthouse Mountain. A Type 1 Incident Management Team was ordered Thursday night.

More information about the fire is at Wildfire Today.

Cow Creek Fire Ridgway Colorado map
3-D map (looking east) showing the perimeter of the Cow Creek Fire at 10:04 p.m. Oct. 17, 2019. The spot fires are on the left.

UPDATE: I found another photo with a better view of the Bell 205A-1, N58HJ. This one appears to have been taken after the spot fires ignited.

Bell 205A-1 N58HJ Cow Fire
Bell 205A-1, N58HJ, at the Cow Fire October 17, 2019. Inciweb.

CAL FIRE’s new Firehawk arrives at Sacramento

CAL FIRE plans to purchase up to 12 Sikorsky S-70i firefighting helicopters

(Above: CAL FIRE’s Firehawk helicopter 903 at Centennial Airport southeast of Denver on the weekend of October 5, 2019, shortly before it was delivered to CAL FIRE in Sacramento. Photo by Kevin Falkenstine.)

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection showed off one of its new Firehawk helicopters Saturday, October 12 at Sacramento McClellan Airport. CAL FIRE has received approval to purchase up to 12 new Sikorsky S-70i helicopters retrofitted by United Rotorcraft as a wildland firefighting aircraft. The Firehawks will replace its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey helicopters.

Helicopter 903, with “McClellan” painted on the side, will be able to carry up to 1,000 gallons of water in an external belly tank. Other features include a 9,000 pound capacity cargo hook, 360-gallon fuel cell, night vision compatible lighting, rescue hoist, augmented reality mapping system, and retractible drafting hose. It can cruise fully loaded at 130 knots (150 mph), or 150 knots (173 mph) unloaded.

Each of CAL FIRE’s new Firehawks costs about $24 million which includes pilot training and a two-year warranty.

The three photos seen here that were taken out of doors are by Kevin Falkenstine. He spotted the aircraft on the weekend of October 5 flying near the compass rose at Centennial Airport, which is where United Rotorcraft is located southeast of Denver.

CAL FIRE Firehawk helicopter 903
CAL FIRE’s Firehawk helicopter 903 at Centennial Airport southeast of Denver on the weekend of October 5, 2019, shortly before it was delivered to CAL FIRE in Sacramento. Photo by Kevin Falkenstine.
CAL FIRE Firehawk helicopter 903
CAL FIRE’s Firehawk helicopter 903 at Centennial Airport southeast of Denver on the weekend of October 5, 2019, shortly before it was delivered to CAL FIRE in Sacramento. Photo by Kevin Falkenstine.
CAL FIRE Firehawk helicopter 903
CAL FIRE’s Firehawk helicopter 903 at Sacramento McClellan airport October 12, 2019. United Rotorcraft/Sikorsky.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jack. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

747 returning from assignment in Bolivia

747 supertanker Bolivia
File photo of Air Tanker 944 at Viru Viru International Airport in Bolivia. Global Supertanker photo.

The 747 Supertanker (GST944) has completed its assignment assisting the firefighters in Bolivia. It is scheduled to fly  back to U.S. Monday night after arriving in South America on August 23.

Tanker 944 is scheduled to depart from Viru Viru Int’l (VVI) at 3:06 PM MDT Monday October 14 heading for San Bernardino International (SBD) with an estimated arrival at 12:04 AM PDT Tuesday October 15. (UPDATE: it appears the departure will be delayed, and the aircraft will probably arrive at SBD Tuesday afternoon.)

Photos of helicopters refilling at the Saddle Ridge Fire

Above: CH-54B, N722HT, at the Saddle Ridge Fire. Stonebrookphotography.

These photos of helicopters refilling at the Chatsworth Lake helispot during the Saddle Ridge Fire were taken by Stonebrookphotography October 11, 2019.

The fire has burned 7,965 acres and 21 structures on the north side of Los Angeles. Strong north to northeast Santa Ana winds caused the fire to spread seven miles across Southern California, from Sylmar to Granda Hills and almost to Chatsworth. More information is at Wildfire Today.

Sikorsdy S-61A
Sikorsky S-61A, N1043T, at the Saddle Ridge Fire. Stonebrookphotography.
Erickson Air-Crane, N164AC
Erickson Air-Crane, N164AC, at the Saddle Ridge Fire. Stonebrookphotography.
Bell 204A-1, N386HQ
Bell 204A-1, N386HQ, at the Saddle Ridge Fire. Stonebrookphotography.

Video of Super Scoopers refilling at Lake Castaic

Today, October 11, 2019, Robert Schwemmer shot this video of two Canadair CL-415 Super Scoopers from Quebec that are under contract with Los Angeles County, refilling their water tanks at Castaic Lake to fight the Saddle Ridge fire on the north side of Los Angeles.

The fire has burned over 7,000 acres and destroyed 25 structures. More information about the fire is at Wildfire Today.

Flight attendants on an air tanker

Authorities in Australia are considering authorizing a 737 air tanker to carry up to 70 passengers

737 air tanker T-137
Coulson’s installation of the internal retardant tank in the passenger compartment of their 737-300. They intend for the aircraft to have seats for up to 70 passengers, enabling it to do double-duty; drop retardant or haul passengers. Coulson photo.

The Boeing 737-300 airliners formerly operated by Southwest Airlines that Coulson Aviation is converting into air tankers are physically capable of carrying up to 4,000 gallons of retardant or 70 passengers. The one the company sold to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia, Tanker 138, has been busy fighting bushfires since it was delivered in July.

The regulatory steps to get approval from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to carry passengers are under way, according to Richard Alder, General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre. Some of those milestones include changing the aircraft’s registration from the United States Federal Aviation Administration to CASA. That process may involve testing with a load of people acting as passengers to ensure that they can evacuate within the required time frame.

Coulson's 737 air tanker passengers
Coulson’s 737 air tanker, outfitted with passenger seats. Coulson photo.

Flight Attendants

“We are required to have three flight attendants in the airplane due to the number of seats,” said Britt Coulson Vice President of Coulson Aviation. “We are still looking at options of who we are going to use to fulfill those positions.”

Coulson's 737 air tanker passengers
The aft section of Coulson’s 737 air tanker, outfitted with passenger seats. Coulson photo.

Passenger and baggage screening

One other detail that has to be worked out is whether the passengers and baggage are required to be screened by electronic devices or security personnel.

Passengers in the 737 air tanker in the United States

Stanton Florea, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said the contract for the 737 air tanker currently on a call when needed contract in the United States does not have any provision to fly passengers. We asked him if the Forest Service has any interest in using an air tanker that can also carry passengers, but have not received a response.