Alberta man charged for end-running evacuation zone

For weeks, Alberta Wildfire officials have begged people to stay away from evacuation zones, and now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will charge a man who ignored those warnings and had to be rescued when he became trapped by flames. RCMP said that Friday afternoon in the Fox Creek area, a 72,830-hectare fire that’s part of the Eagle Complex trapped a man who became stranded northwest of Fox Creek. reported that police were called at 2:45 p.m. about a man stranded, where he had attempted to use a gravel road to get around an evacuation zone checkpoint. Because of active fire in the area, police said it was not safe for first responders to go in and rescue the man — so a forestry helicopter flew in and airlifted him to safety.

On Sunday, RCMP said they are seeking to lay common nuisance charges against the man for diverting firefighting resources.

“Alberta RCMP continue to be deployed with specialized units to assist with public safety and crime reduction efforts during these fires,” said district advisory NCO Staff Sgt. Neal Fraser in a statement. The man’s name was not yet released; RCMP expected details to come later this week. On Monday, Alberta Wildfire said the fire near Fox Creek is still burning out of control but hasn’t grown toward the community in the past day.

Rain was expected late Monday. The province said firefighters are taking advantage of the quieter fire behavior to reinforce a fire guard west of Fox Creek and to build a new line along the southern edge of an excursion that crossed Highway 43 north of Fox Creek. Heavy equipment is also working on fire guards, to remove hazardous rotten trees that pose a risk to both firefighters and area residents. As of Monday, there were 164 provincial wildland firefighters and support personnel working the fire, along with a structural protection unit and the Fox Creek Fire Department.

Also helping were firefighters from Colorado and New Brunswick, and about 100 soldiers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment out of CFB Edmonton.

There were also 17 helicopters working on the Eagle Complex, including two heavy helicopters dedicated to dropping water with buckets.

Pilot walks away from helicopter crash near Alberta fire

A pilot walked away with minor injuries when his helicopter made a hard landing and rolled at the Edson Airport in western Alberta Thursday evening. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said officers responded just after 8 p.m. to the town’s airport, located about 180 kilometres (112 miles) west of Edmonton in Yellowhead County. According to Global News Canada, police said the helicopter was helping fight; that site has video of the incident. RCMP said forestry officials responded to the crash, in addition to emergency crews.

Alberta helicopter incident
Alberta helicopter incident, screenshot from video clip.

An Alberta Wildfire officer said the province doesn’t own its own helicopters and instead contracts with private outfits to help as needed. It’s not yet known what company owned the helicopter that crashed.

Video sent to Global News shows the helicopter coming in to land and setting down hard, causing the aircraft to flip over. The pilot, who was alone in the aircraft, sustained only minor injuries. He was taken to hospital as a precaution, RCMP added.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it has been notified of the crash in Edson.

Wisconsin activates Black Hawks

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the National Weather Service have issued a Red Flag Warning for Thursday, April 13 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for most counties in the southern two-thirds of the state — prompted by high temperatures, low humidity, gusty winds, and exceptionally dry fuels.

A Wisconsin Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the Madison-based Army Aviation Support Facility #2 in the process of filling a Bambi bucket to support fire suppression efforts near Necedah in Juneau County the afternoon of April 12. Wisconsin DNR photo
A Wisconsin Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the Madison-based Army Aviation Support Facility #2 in the process of filling a Bambi bucket to support fire suppression efforts near Necedah in Juneau County the afternoon of April 12. Wisconsin DNR photo

The Wausau Pilot and Review reported that Thursday was the second day in a row Wisconsin was faced with these conditions. Counties in the area will remain at Extreme fire danger and the DNR will prohibit burning.

The DNR just yesterday responded to 21 wildfires burning over 2,500 acres. Several fires burned in Juneau and Jackson counties, resulting in the mobilization of a DNR incident management team. The Jack Pine Fire burned an estimated 100 acres but has been contained. The DNR, under unified command with Fort McCoy, is also managing the 2,800-acre Arcadia Fire, which is nearly 50 percent contained.
FOX 6 News reported that crews fought the fire overnight and operations were ongoing today. State patrol is monitoring smoke on the interstate and will shut it down again if visibility or fire conditions warrant it.

Wisconsin smoke. DNR photo

The Arcadia Fire, which started at the north end of Fort McCoy, resulted in some voluntary evacuations. Three structures were damaged; the cause of the wildfire is still under investigation. The fire is burning in oak and jack pine.

Nearly 80 wildfires have occurred in the last week.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers yesterday declared a State of Emergency in response to elevated wildfire conditions; his executive order triggers wildfire suppression support from the Wisconsin National Guard, which will assist with Black Hawk helicopters in areas of the state in need of aerial fire suppression. Executive Order #191 also directs all Wisconsin state agencies to assist in wildfire prevention, response, and recovery efforts.

Southwest Airlines jet aborts landing to avoid LAFD helicopter

The string of near-misses in U.S. airspace continues, this time involving a Southwest Airlines 737 and a fire department helicopter at Hollywood-Burbank Airport in southern California. Matthew Klint with reported that “Southwest Airlines flight 353 was on approach for landing at BUR airport when Air Traffic Control noticed a Los Angeles Fire Department Bell 505 helicopter practicing takeoffs and landings, right where the Southwest flight was to land. The Southwest flight, a Boeing 737-700 with registration N551WN, was ordered to abort landing and performed a go-around.”

NBC Los Angeles reported that just before 10 a.m., the 737 from Phoenix was on approach to Runway 8 for a landing; it was about a mile out when air traffic control noticed the LAFD helicopter doing touch-and-go’s on the same runway. The controller told the helicopter to remain in place and directed the Southwest pilot to go around. Ed Whisenant Aviation has a related video online.

This is yet another incident at Burbank; on January 22 two aircraft were cleared to use the same runway at the same time (a Mesa Airlines CRJ900 operating for American Airlines and a SkyWest Embraer 175 operating for United Airlines). In that incident, an automatic alarm onboard the CRJ900 sounded, which may have prevented a tragedy.

Helicopter crash kills 2 in Chilean fires

A Bolivian pilot and a Chilean mechanic died when their helicopter crashed while firefighting in the commune of Galvarino, in the region of La Araucanía, 700 kilometers south of Santiago, Chile.

In statements reported on February 4 in MercoPress, Mauricio Tapiaby, deputy director of the Chiliean National Service for Disaster Prevention and Response noted that the pilot had “many years of experience in aeronautics and firefighting” and that 11 others, including a firefighter, had died on February 3 in a “swarm” of at least 50 uncontrolled fires. Tapia reported that 22 had suffered burns and 95 houses destroyed.

A Constitutional State of Emergency has been declared for the central-south regions of Biobío and Ñuble.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric activated Armed Forces and Carabineros for prevention patrols. “It is much easier to prevent a fire than to fight it,” he said, while adding that fire control activities were progressing with an estimated 75 aircraft and 2300 firefighters.

Temperatures of 40 C (100 F) are being recorded, with moderating temperatures by next week but gusty afternoon winds continuing, and the recent Fire Weather Index in the 75th percentile.

January 28-February 1, 2023 - fire hot spots in Chile via ResourceWatch.

Resource Watch: Fire Weather Index and Recent Fires

Additional reports shared via Twitter by @hotshotwakeup ( includes shared footage of communities being overrun by fire.

An official helps guide evacuees as a wildfire burns through houses in Chile.
An official helps guide evacuees as a wildfire burns through houses in Chile. Screenshot from video shared on Twitter by @hotshotwake.

In one video, a public official walks toward the fire and chaos to help guide the evacuees to a safety zone.

Updates can be monitored at ReliefWeb at

The story of Higgins Ridge

Smokejumpers who survived a 1961 wildfire on Higgins Ridge in Idaho will recount their harrowing experience in a film on Monday on Montana PBS. The Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell reported that “Higgins Ridge,” named for the location of the fire in Idaho’s Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, will air January 30 at 8 p.m. Mountain Time.

The U.S. Forest Service sent 20 smokejumpers to what looked like a routine fire from the air, but an afternoon cold front blew the blaze to an inferno on the Nez Perce National Forest. The jumpers, 8 from Grangeville and 12 out of Missoula — many of them rookies — shifted from fighting the fire to fighting for their lives. They instinctively wanted to run to safety, but they remembered the fate of 13 firefighters who had tried to outrun a fire in Montana’s Mann Gulch 12 years before.

With that tragedy in mind, they decided to hold up. As the wind increased to 50 mph the supervisors of the two squads, Dave Perry and Fred “Fritz” Wolfrum, instructed the firefighters to remain calm and to clear an area for themselves in the black.

In the film, 12 of the 20 men who jumped the fire on August 4, 1961, share the story of how the fire surrounded them, showered them with embers, and forced them to shelter in place. After about three hours, helicopter pilot Rod Snider managed to land his Bell 47B-3 on Higgins Ridge, about 83 miles southwest of Missoula, despite heavy smoke and wind, and he shuttled the jumpers to safety. Snider, then a pilot with Johnson Flying Service who is now 92 years old, is featured in the documentary along with many of his original photos from 1961.

Bell 47 helicopter, USFS photo.
A Bell 47G helicopter, USFS photo.

“This is a story that, for 60 years, never was shared beyond a few smokejumper circles,” producer Breanna McCabe said. “I didn’t believe it when I first heard it. But when a dozen men who were there all corroborate the same series of unbelievable events, I knew it was time for the public to hear it.”

Many of the interviews were collected in 2019 as part of the National Museum of Forest Service History’s Higgins Ridge Oral History Project. The museum partnered with Montana PBS producer Breanna McCabe for technical assistance recording the interviews, and McCabe collected additional interviews and materials to weave the stories into one captivating hourlong film.

Details and a 1-minute trailer are posted at and viewers can stream the show at or from the Montana PBS Facebook page.

Bill Gabbert wrote a detailed story on this fire three years ago.

About the producer: Montana PBS producer Breanna McCabe draws from 16 years of video storytelling throughout the West and beyond. She is eager to bring “Higgins Ridge” to audiences in 2023, a historical story that’s grounded at the Missoula Smokejumper Base in McCabe’s hometown. She remembers watching smokejumpers practice landing on the hill behind her childhood home, and today she enjoys hearing “silk stories” from her brother-in-law, an Alaska smokejumper. As a producer at Montana PBS, McCabe contributes stories to the program “Backroads of Montana.” Her last documentary, “Ghost Forests,” took viewers into high elevations to examine the threats facing whitebark pine. McCabe graduated from the University of Montana School of Journalism in 2009, and returned to earn her master’s degree in environmental science and natural resource journalism in 2020. In between, she worked as a broadcast news reporter for CBS News affiliates KPAX-TV in Missoula and KREM 2 News in Spokane. When she’s not asking senior smokejumpers to see their slide collections, she enjoys exploring trails, rivers and shores with her husband and their two pint-sized, high-spirited rescue dogs.

Bambi Buckets hit 40!

The very first Bambi Bucket was introduced back in 1982, and since then it’s become well-known in aerial firefighting operations around the world. Mark Tayler — general manager at manufacturer SEI Industries — says the bucket’s popularity is thanks to the company’s innovation. “It’s been a process of continuous evolution,” he told Vertical magazine.

The giant flexible bucket made from SEI’s iconic orange material was the breakthrough product in early development of helicopter-slung water loads. “The early tanks were bulky and rigid,” said Tayler, “and had to be either moved to the site of the fire by road, or flown there under the helicopter, and they weren’t reliable.” He said what they needed was a way that the tank could be transported to the site inside the helicopter, and then used to drop water reliably.

SEI's Bambi Bucket hits 40-year mark. SEI photo.
SEI’s Bambi Bucket hits 40-year mark. SEI photo.

In 1978 Canadian inventor Don Arney and his partner Mark McCooey started a company named after their founding principles: science, engineering, and innovation. While testing underwater airbags by suspending them filled with water, Arney wondered if something similar might be used as a firefighting bucket. Arney built a prototype in his garage and repeatedly tested it — there’s even an archive photo of him testing the damage resistance of the original design by whacking a filled and suspended bucket with a woodcutting axe. While still rigorous, the SEI’s testing methods are now somewhat more sophisticated.

Firefighting customers can choose from numerous custom options when purchasing Bambi Buckets. They range in size from 72 to 2,590 gallons (270 to 9,800 liters), which at the top end is just under ten tons of water, about as much as some airport fire trucks. Then there are options to add pumps that allow the bucket to be filled without submerging it, fire suppressing foam injection systems, and even floatation devices in case the bucket must be jettisoned in the water.

Since its entry into production 40 years ago, the Bambi Bucket has been used in over 100 countries and slung under a wide variety of aircraft, from light helicopters to the heavy Chinooks. Congratulations to SEI for hitting its 40th anniversary!

First flight of teleoperated helicopter aims for agile and safer fire operations

Helitack and on-the-ground firefighters learn to keep eye contact with a helicopter pilot. So it’s unnerving to look into the cockpit of this Robinson R22 and not see a pilot’s helmet as it lifts into a hover. But this is the point – this is a video of the first test flight of an uncrewed, teleoperated helicopter focused on fire missions. And it takes just a moment to spot a focused face in the control van behind the hovering helicopter – the pilot, holding a cautious yet quite committed in-ground hover.

First teleoperated flight of Robinson helicopter with Rotor Technologies
First teleoperated flight of Robinson helicopter with Rotor Technologies. The pilot is in the control van on the right.

On December 2, 2022, Rotor Technologies’ teleoperation tools demonstrated the first and key technical challenge of moving the pilot out of the helicopter. The first three-minute flight of “Birdy McBirdface” (named in honor of  “Boaty McBoatface,” a pioneering British uncrewed submersible) demonstrated the initial flight operations with their CloudPilot system and began testing and refining the remote piloting process.

To get to this launch, company co-founders Dr. Hector Xu and Greg McMillan studied the opportunities for improving aviation with technology. Their research showed that “firefighting came across as a very urgent need,” Xu said after the first series of test flights. “It’s a growing need in terms of the climate crisis. And people don’t have the tools to fight fires.”

After a year and half of programming and prototypes, they’ve launched their CloudPilot teleoperations system that relies on low earth orbit satellites to integrate accurate, real-time location-sharing and communications between the pilot and the helicopter.

While others are developing larger payload aircraft with autonomous piloting, Rotor is focused on light helicopters with real-time but remote piloting. By removing the pilot from the light helicopter, the payload increases from 170 pounds to 400, with a three-hour flight time. Even with that gain, Xu acknowledges that “in suppression operations, we will always be a little payload limited when compared with the competition.”

The advantages of a remote pilot become more apparent in precise and interactive operations, both high risk and more routine, “when flying low and slow in the deadman’s curve, such as ignitions, and providing logistics, food, water, tools. The case that is exciting is working on the fringes of the day. To build technology that is able to fly beyond visual flight restrictions, that improves situational awareness of remote pilots beyond the physical cockpit. The technology we’re building will improve situational awareness in low-visibility situations,” both to avoid inadvertent entry into instrument meteorology conditions (IMC) and to ensure safe flying in IMC. With CloudPilot technologies, even night operations become possible – think of the potential of aerial night ignitions.

Yet what adds the most value to a light helicopter with remote piloting? As Xu notes, “People have been building uncrewed rotorcraft for awhile … trying to build fully autonomous systems. We’re very clear this is teleoperations. A pilot is operating this remotely. Not a lot of people are building this technology, particularly in the civilian operations.”

And it is this clear relationship – between pilot and helicopter, and with fire operations on the ground and in the air – that Xu holds is unique in their approach, which will help build trust in new technologies that will in turn support safer mission operations overall.

Beyond wildland firefighting, use scenarios include disaster response, emergency management and eventually passenger certification.

With their success in the first flights, Rotor Technologies is planning for simulated firefighting scenarios in field tests this summer for their two prototype helicopters.

For more, see Rotor’s Medium post at