Excellent graphical representations of aircraft working on fires

Aircraft profiles, LNU Lightning Complex of fires
Aircraft profiles, LNU Lightning Complex of fires, Aug. 22, 2020. Reuters graphic.

Reuters has an excellent series of graphics showing how aircraft of all types are used on wildfires. The authors of the piece, Simon Scarr, Marco Hernandez, and Manas Sharma, must have spent days distilling a massive amount of data into easily digestible images, and in one case an animated graphic. Incredible work — check it out.

The image above is a time line showing the altitude of individual aircraft, from 1 p.m. on the left to 8 p.m. on the right. At about 7 p.m. there were 14 working, three OV-10s, seven S-2Ts, and four large air tankers. (In this graphic they transposed a couple of the characters in the model names of two tankers, but they get a pass for the overall great work.)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Thomas.

Photos of northern California firefighting aircraft, part 1

air tanker 23, N923AU
T-23, P-3, N923AU, Photo by Dylan Phelps

Dylan Phelps sent us these photos that he captured at various Northern California airports in the first part of September as our firefighters were going up against one of the most vicious wildfire seasons on record.

Thanks Dylan!

air tanker 944 747 supertanker
T-944, Boeing 747-466, N744ST, Photo by Dylan Phelps
air tanker 911, N17085
T-911, N17085, Photo by Dylan Phelps
air tanker 481, C-FLXT,
T-481, Lockheed L-188C Electra, C-FLXT, Photo by Dylan Phelps
CAL FIRE Helicopter 903
CAL FIRE H-903, Sikorsky S-70i FireHawk, N483DF, Photo by Dylan Phelps
air tanker 60
T-60, Douglas DC-7, N838D, Photo by Dylan Phelps
N316LH helicopter
Bell 212, N316LH, photo by Dylan Phelps

Teen firefighting pilot flies Blackhawks and Chinooks

Ashli Blain is 19 years old

Ashli Blain, firefighting helicopter pilot
Ashli Blain, screenshot from KECI video.

Ashli Blain, a 19-year old college student, recently went back to school after spending her summer fighting fires from helicopters as a command pilot in Blackhawks and copilot in Chinooks. She works for Billings Flying Service out of Montana.

It was “by far the toughest flying I have ever done”, said helicopter pilot about rescuing trapped people at the Creek Fire

Over 300 were rescued

rescued by California National Guard helicopter
Civilians in a Chinook that were rescued by a California National Guard helicopter and crew. CNG photo.

As of noon Tuesday, California National Guard and U.S. Navy helicopters had rescued 362 people and 16 dogs that had become trapped as roads were blocked by the fast moving Creek Fire northeast of Fresno, California. Civilians extracted from the Edison Lake and China Peak areas were flown to the Fresno airport in Blackhawks, Chinooks, and a Navy Seahawk.

Rescued people arrive at Fresno Creek Fire
People who were rescued from the Creek Fire arrive at Fresno airport September 8, 2020. California National Guard image.

Examples of their missions Tuesday at Lake Edison:

  • A Stockton-based Cal Guard Ch-47 chinook evacuated 46 people and four dogs.
  • A U.S. Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter rescued 17 people and one dog.
  • Two Cal Guard UH-60 Black Hawks and one CH-47 Chinook rescued 65 people.

Not all of the attempts to rescue people were immediately successful. On some missions poor visibility caused by smoke forced pilots to abort and try again later. Some of the flights were at night and were accomplished with the assistance of night vision goggles.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Creek Fire click HERE.)

One of the helicopter pilots said in an interview posted at the Sacramento Bee (below) that he has been shot at while flying for the Army but, “[T]he stress and added workload of going in and out of that fire every time is by far the toughest flying I have ever done.”

Map of the Creek Fire
Map of the Creek Fire at 8:41 p.m. PDT September 7, 2020.

Kaman Aerospace orders mandatory inspection of K-MAX helicopters

A K-MAX helicopter working the Myrtle Fire
A K-MAX helicopter working the Myrtle Fire in South Dakota, July 19, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert for Fire Aviation.

Kaman Aerospace has issued a mandatory action service bulletin requiring operators of K-1200 K-MAX aircraft within a specified range of serial numbers to conduct an inspection before their next flight. An issue with the planet carrier has appeared and must be checked with a borescope — and thereafter, every 100 hours.

It is unknown if this inspection is related to the August 24 K-MAX crash in which the pilot, Tom Duffy, 40, died.

Summarizing the aerial firefighter line of duty deaths during a recent 49-day period

May they rest in peace

Rest in peace

If you are like me it seems like there have been a lot of deaths of firefighting pilots recently (there have been) and maybe it is getting difficult to keep track. I feel bad if for a moment I can’t remember all six men. So to help me and anyone else that can benefit from having an (awful) list to refer to, here is a brief summary, with links to articles that have more details.

During the 49-day period that began July 7 there were six crashes of firefighting aircraft — three helicopters and three air tankers. In chronological order, they are:

July 7
Bryan Jeffery Boatman, 37, was approaching a helispot delivering supplies by long line to firefighters in a remote area on the Polles Fire in central Arizona. The UH-1H was operated by Airwest Helicopters out of Glendale, Arizona. The aircraft was under an exclusive use contract with the USFS.

July 30
Two single engine air tankers (SEATs) crashed after a mid-air collision while working the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada. The pilots were David Blake Haynes and Scott Thomas. Both Air Tractor AT-802A aircraft were operated by M&M Air Services out of Beaumont, Texas on a BLM contract.

August 8
A Portuguese water-scooping air tanker, a CL-215, crashed in Spain August 8 while battling a wildfire that started near Lindoso, Portugal and burned across the international border. The pilot, Jorge Jardim, 65, was killed and the Spanish co-pilot was seriously injured. The scooper was operated by the Portuguese branch of the international company Babcock.

August 19
Mike Fournier, 52, was killed in the crash of a Bell UH-1H helicopter while on a water dropping mission on the Hills Fire, approximately 9 miles south of the City of Coalinga. It was operated by Guardian Helicopters out of Van Nuys, California on a CAL FIRE contract.

August 24
Tom Duffy, 40, died in a helicopter crash during a water bucket mission on the White River Fire in Oregon. The K-MAX was operated by Central Copters of Bozeman, Montana on a Call When Needed contract with the U.S. Forest Service.


As a former firefighter I don’t view all firefighters as heroes, of course, but we should honor these men for their service, and pray that their families can find some sort of peace knowing that they were on a good, honorable mission in life, helping others and doing things that few people can.

Pilot identified in Oregon helicopter accident

The helicopter was a Kaman Aerospace K1200, better known as a K-MAX

K-MAX Salmon Idaho
K-MAX helicopter (N314) at Salmon, ID July 28, 2016. It was working on the Comet fire north of the city. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The pilot killed in the August 24 helicopter crash has been identified as Tom Duffy, 40. The information was released by a publication of the Seventh-day Adventist church, which said he was a lay leader. A news release by the U.S. Forest Service said the accident occurred during a water bucket mission on the White River Fire in Oregon.

The FAA reported the helicopter was N314, SN A94-0032, a Kaman Aerospace K1200, better known as a K-MAX. It is registered to Central Copters out of Bozeman Montana. The company operates several K-MAX ships with the distinctive red and black livery.

The FAA confirmed the crash occurred during firefighting bucket operations.

The White River Fire has burned 1,350 acres 11 miles southeast of Mt. Hood since it started from a lightning strike August 17.

A K-MAX can carry up to about 700 gallons and is rated as a Type 1 helicopter by the Forest Service.

I took these photos of the helicopter while on a motorcycle trip in 2016.

A K-MAX helicopter (N314) drops water on the Comet Fire north of Salmon, Idaho July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Pilot killed in helicopter accident while battling Oregon fire

August 25, 2020 | 4:07 a.m. PDT

White River Fire August 24, 2020 Oregon helicopter accident
White River Fire August 24, 2020

The pilot of a helicopter was killed August 24 while assisting firefighters on the White River Fire in Oregon. According to the U.S. Forest Service the K-MAX helicopter was dropping water in rough terrain when the accident occurred.

Wasco County Sheriff’s Office and Forest Service air and ground resources responded immediately to the site. There will be an investigation into the accident, and the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified. The firefighter has not yet been identified.

The White River Fire has burned 1,102 acres of timber and light logging slash 11 miles southeast of Mt. Hood since it started from a lightning strike August 17. It is being suppressed by 304 personnel and a Type 2 incident management team led by Incident Commander Brian Goff.

We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the pilot.

White River Fire August pilot helicopter killed crash accident
White River Fire August 18, 2020. InciWeb.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jeff.