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 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.

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.

Simplex has been acquired by DART

Simplex manufactures aerial application equipment for helicopters, including internal and external water tanks for firefighting

Simplex and DART exhibits
The Simplex and DART exhibits were adjacent to each other at Heli-Expo in Atlanta March 5, 2019.

Wednesday morning it was announced that Simplex Aerospace has been acquired by the Canadian helicopter parts manufacturer DART Aerospace.

For 73 years Simplex has been manufacturing an assortment of aerial application systems for helicopters, some of which are used in fighting wildfires. Most notable are the external belly tanks and a more recent addition, internal tanks for Blackhawks.

Simplex has been based in Portland, Oregon while DART’s headquarters is in Canada.

Simplex internal tank Blackhawk
A Simplex internal tank for a Blackhawk at Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

The newly combined entity, which will transition into operating under the DART brand, will now have more than 320 employees in eight locations worldwide, including four manufacturing centers of excellence.

“With the support of Simplex’s 200+ international product certifications and its years of experience in the aerial firefighting sector, DART will strengthen its global leadership position by providing helicopter mission equipment for offshore, firefighting and utility applications, as well as an increased portfolio alongside our current product offering of 900+ STCs” states Alain Madore, DART’s President and CEO.

“We are proud to be delivering the added value that Simplex’s products and capabilities will bring to the DART brand” said Mark Zimmerman, President and CEO of Simplex who led the company through 18 years of success. “Together, our unique STC portfolio and complementary product lines will enable us to achieve revenue synergies and expand our reach across the aerial firefighting sector worldwide.”

Night-flying helicopter program to continue this season in Australia

NAFC is also looking toward developing a night-flying fixed wing air tanker program

night-flying helicopter Australia
An S-61 snorkels from a dip tank in phase 2 of the night-flying trial in Victoria, Australia. February, 2018. Coulson photo.

During the 2017-2018 bushfire season in Australia two helicopters were approved for dropping water at night with the use of night vision goggles (NVG) by the pilots.  At least one of the ships, an S-61, was approved for hover refilling which was the first time this had been done anywhere.

Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the program will continue during the 2019-2020 fire season that is just beginning. This summer there will be a Coulson S-61 based initially  at Ballarat, Victoria and a Bell 412 operated by Kestrel out of Mangalore, Victoria.

“Both machines are tank-equipped and capable of hover filling at night,” Mr. Alder explained. “Supervision and support will again be provided by a Coulson NVG equipped S-76 [helicopter] and a number of other locally based NVG equipped Type 3 helicopters. It is hoped that the night program will be able to move into initial attack over the course of the 2019/2020 season, but this still requires some work to establish appropriate systems of work and procedures for initial attack.”

Last summer NAFC started thinking seriously about fixed wing air tankers working at night. They are still interested in having that capability but are taking a “crawl, walk, run approach”, Mr. Alder said. The agency is working with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and vendors on parameters for a trial, and hope to make some progress over the 2019-2020 fire season.

Australia sets their firefighting aircraft lineup for the bushfire season

Above: A second large air tanker is now operational in New South Wales. On September 24 an RJ85, Tanker 165 known as “Boomer”, completed final testing and became available joining Tanker 138, a B-737. NSW RFS photo.

As Australia moves into their summer and enters the traditional beginning of their bushfire season the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in finalizing the lineup of firefighting aircraft for the 2019-2020 season. Contracts are in place for four large privately owned large air tankers and nine large Type 1 helicopters. In addition they will have the 737 that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service purchased earlier this year.

Large Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts

Already in place and available are the NSW RFS 737 (Tanker 138) and a FieldAir/Conair Avro RJ85 (Tanker 165) both based for now on the outskirts of Sydney at Richmond, New South Wales.

In early November the mandatory availability period (MAP) begins for what will be either another 737 or a  C-130Q at Richmond, provided by Coulson.

Richard Alder, the General Manager of NAFC, said, “The contract with Coulson allows for either a 737 or C-130Q. The final decision on which type will be made shortly, according to how the season is developing.”

In early to mid-December the MAPs for two other large airtankers will begin for another C-130Q and a RJ85 from Coulson and FieldAir/Conair, respectively. The scheduled base for the two aircraft is Avalon, Victoria.

The five large air tankers available is one less than in 2018/2019.

Like the United States and other fire-prone areas, Australia has been experiencing wildfires during times of the year when traditionally they did not occur in large numbers. The 737 air tanker that was delivered to the NSW RFS two months ago has been busy during much of the Australian winter, completing 60 missions and delivering 237,000 gallons of water and retardant.


The nine Type 1 helicopters under exclusive use contract will include six S-64E Air-Cranes (Kestrel/Erickson) and three S-61s (Coulson). Two of the Air-Cranes will be at Bankstown, and one each at Melbourne (Essendon), Melbourne (Moorabbin), Adelaide, and Perth.

The three S-61s are to be based in Victoria at Colac, Mansfield,  and Ballarat.

 Erickson Air-Cranes Melbourne
Six Erickson Air-Cranes in Melbourne in 2009.

The base locations for all of the aircraft could change throughout the summer as the bushfire season progresses.

Single Engine Air Tankers 

The recent tender process for SEATs has not yet been signed off, but Mr. Alder expects there will be about 45 on national exclusive use contracts plus another six contracted directly to state government agencies. This is 8 less than in 2018/2019.