US Forest Service may contract for up to 30 more helicopters

helicopter HAI HELI-EXPO arrival landing anaheim california
A Eurocopter Super Puma AS 332L arrives at HAI HELI-EXPO in Anaheim, California January 24, 2020. It is registered to Horizon Helicopters in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The U.S. Forest Service has published a solicitation asking for bids that could add up to 30 helicopters to the firefighting fleet this summer.

Published April 22, the solicitation has a very quick turnaround date, with offers due April 27, 2020. In order to be eligible for this opportunity, parties applying must already have one of the 68 current Call When Needed agreements in place.

The Forest Service is asking for pricing proposals for Type 1 and 2 helicopters which would be available for a 90-day Mandatory Availability Period commencing on either June 1st or June 15th.

As we wrote April 22, the four-year exclusive use contracts for Type 1 firefighting helicopters issued in 2016 expire April 30. Since new contracts based on the solicitation issued November 15, 2019 have not yet been awarded the Forest Service has given 30-day contracts to a handful of vendors. The agency has refused to provide to us any details about the 30-day contracts.

Since many of their procurement actions for firefighting aircraft are protested, delaying activation for several months, these 90-day contracts for up to 30 helicopters may be a safety net in case of a protest. If a company receives one of the Type 1 EU contracts, the Forest Service “will then remove your awarded helicopter from consideration for this one-time [90-day] opportunity.”

On April 6, 2018 the Forest Service awarded EU contracts for 34 Type 2 firefighting helicopters. The duration was for one base year through April 30, 2019, with the possibility of 3 one-year renewal option periods. The U.S. Forest Service has shown by how they manage the air tanker and Type 1 helicopter contracts that the option periods are definitely not a sure thing after cutting those aircraft during recent optional years.

This possible increase in the number of helicopters is presumably a response to what could a diminished firefighting capability during the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 23 Fire Aviation called for a large increase in the numbers of aviation resources:

Congress needs to appropriate enough funding to have 40 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. Until that takes place and the aircraft are sitting on ramps at air tanker bases, all 17 of the large air tankers on call when needed contracts need to be activated this summer. Right now, only one large air tanker is working.

Several years ago the number of the largest helicopters on EU contracts, Type 1, were cut from 34 to 28. This number needs to be increased to 50. Until that happens 22 CWN Type 1 helicopters should be activated this summer.

If this temporary increase in the Type 1 and Type 2 helicopter fleets actually occurs, unimpeded by contract protests, it is the right thing to do.

The next action that needs to be taken is a similar increase in the fixed wing fleet this summer.

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

Contracts with Type 1 helicopters are expiring April 30

Some vendors have received 30-day contracts beginning May 1

UTF T1 Helicopters unable to fill 2000-2019

The four-year exclusive use contracts for Type 1 firefighting helicopters issued in 2016 expire at the end of this month on April 30. Since new contracts based on the solicitation issued November 15, 2019 have not yet been awarded the U.S. Forest Service has given 30-day contracts to a handful of vendors.

After one of our readers told us about the 30-day contracts, I contacted the U.S. Forest Service by email with a list of questions to find out more details, including which purchasing authority was used to issue these unusual aerial firefighting contracts.

Kaari Carpenter speaking for the agency declined the specific requests, only saying, “The USDA FS is utilizing all options available via the existing aviation contracts and Call When Needed Agreements to ensure that historical helicopter coverage remains in place.” A direct appeal to the Forest Service Director of Fire and Aviation, Shawna Legarza, did not receive a response.

Hunt Norris, the General Manager of Siller Helicopters, confirmed that his company received two of the 30-day contracts. Siller operates CH-54A and S-64E Sikorsky Skycranes.

The Type 1 helicopter schedule called for two bases to open on April 12, Sierra Vista, Arizona and Silver City, New Mexico, but those contracts expire April 30. Five bases were expected to begin their season on May 1: Cedar City, Utah; Helena, MT; Porterville, CA; Bishop, CA; and La Grande, OR.

Siller Helicopters CH-54A H-781 fire
A Siller Helicopters CH-54A (H-781); a Type 1 helicopter. Photo by Siller.

For a number of years the Forest Service had 34 Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use contracts, but that number was cut to 28 in 2017 using the provisions for three 1-year optional extensions. The first two years after the reduction, 2017 and 2018, the percentages of requests for Type 1 helicopters that were unable to be filled (UTF) were 60 and 45 percent, respectively. Last year, 2019, was extremely slow, with the number of acres burned in the lower 49 states being 40 percent lower than the 10-year average. That was reflected in the UTFs — only 5 percent of the requests were not filled in 2019.

Colorado seeks to add to their aerial firefighting resources for COVID-19 preparedness

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) is requesting three additional air tankers and one helicopter, all on exclusive use contracts

Durango Helitack crew
Colorado’s Durango Helitack crew demonstrates crew loading at the Safety Fly-In May 31, 2019 at the Durango Air Tanker Base in Colorado. Photo by Rick Freimuth.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) wishes to obtain additional aircraft for their firefighting fleet during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to Governor Jared Polis and members of the General Assembly, the Director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Mike Morgan, will be requesting $7.7 million to add three air tankers, a helicopter, and a fixed wing aircraft in order to provide aggressive initial attack and to supplement the limited number of ground resources available during the pandemic.

Currently the state owns two Multi-Mission Aircraft used for mapping reconnaissance. On contract they have two Exclusive Use (EU) Helicopters each with 12-person DFPC Helitack Crews, two EU Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATS), and three Call-When-Needed (CWN) SEAT contracts.

If approved by the Governor and the Assembly the additional aircraft, all on EU contracts, would include one large air tanker on a 120-day contract, two single engine air tankers (SEATs) on 150-day contracts, a Type 2 helicopter on a 120-day contract, and an Air Attack fixed-wing aircraft on a 180-day contract for aerial supervision and airspace coordination.

The 747 SuperTanker is on a CWN contract with Colorado but it needs to take and pass another grid test before it can be used on a fire in the United States. It has been certified by the Interagency Airtanker Board on an interim basis, but that has expired. After having made modifications to the retardant delivery system, the operator, Global SuperTanker, believes the aircraft will pass the test, but scheduling it during the pandemic has proved to be difficult.

Colorado also has a CWN contract for a P-3 large air tanker operated by Airstrike.

The state’s Wildfire Emergency Response Fund (WERF), part of an effort to keep fires small, provides funding or reimbursement for the first air tanker flight or the first hour of a firefighting helicopter, and/or two days of a wildfire hand crew at the request any county sheriff, municipal fire department, or fire protection district.

The firefighting goals of the DFPC include:

  • Generating an incident assessment for every fire within 60 minutes of request or detection.
  • Delivering the appropriate aviation suppression resources to every fire within 60 minutes of the request.
  • Providing on-scene technical assistance and support within 90 minutes of request for support from a local agency.

Colorado has beefed up their ground resources this year, adding three additional 10-person modules (hand crews) which raises the total number of modules to four, with one in each quadrant of the state.

Colorado wildfires 2002 - 2019
Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control

The DFPC continues to partner with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to increase the availability of bulldozers, road graders, and other heavy equipment for wildfire suppression. To date, 75 CDOT equipment operators have received basic training.

Like other firefighting organizations, Colorado realizes that the pandemic is likely to reduce the availability and productivity of firefighters. Staffing of Incident Management Teams (IMTs) may be constrained by a reduced number of personnel who are available to leave their home jurisdictions. The DFPC is developing cadre lists of State and local personnel who can form multiple Type 3 IMTs for suppressing wildfires.

Report released for crash of Air-Crane helicopter into lake

The accident occurred in Australia in January, 2019

Air-crane helicopter crash Australia report
From the ATSB report.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau determined that the Air-Crane helicopter that crashed into a lake January 28, 2019 in Victoria, Australia was a victim of vortex ring state (VRS). The accident occurred on a firefighting mission as it descended to draft water at a narrow lake with steep sides.

From the report released April 17, 2020:

The topography, high rate of powered descent, and steep flare that reduced the airspeed, created conditions conducive to the onset of VRS. The crew reported that the rapidity of onset and dimensions of the dip site did not provide enough time or space to maneuver sideways to effect a recovery.

Air-Crane crash Australia helicopter
The Air-Crane crashed in a lake surrounded by rising terrain.

Here is what I wrote about the accident on January 28, 2019 in a comment below the report of the accident:

If the helicopter was attempting to hover to draft water to refill its tanks, the fairly narrow section of the lake with what appears to be steep rising terrain nearby may have been a factor in the confined space. The Air-Crane has six blades on the main rotor with a diameter of 72 feet. It may have encountered what helicopter pilots refer to as a “Vortex Ring State” or VRS. The canyon slopes may have prevented the massive rotor wash from diffusing and could have caused the cushion of air beneath it to become chaotic as the helicopter neared the water surface, reducing lift.

VRS in addition to density altitude was a factor in the crash of the MH-X Silent Hawk that transported Seal Team 6 as they attacked the hideout of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011. The helicopter was landing inside a yard surrounded by high walls when it lost lift. The pilots had practiced landing in a full-scale model of the site, but the walls in the model were represented by chain link fencing material, and were not solid like the walls around Osama bin Laden’s house. The rotor wash would have been more easily diffused through the chain link fence during the rehearsals.

Air-Crane 341
Air-Crane 341. From the report.

Two crewmembers were not injured, but one sustained a knee injury. In May, 2019 the helicopter was recovered after a complex salvage process.

Air-Crane extracted from lake crash

Below are excerpts from the ATSB report about the Air-Crane incident (which you can view here):


…After a number of water drops, the aerial attack supervisor (AAS) re-tasked the crew to fight a flame front further north, which was east-northeast from the dip site. Each drop was also incrementally further north. This resulted in the crew gradually tightening the approach to the dip site.

During the occurrence approach, the tighter approach resulted in a greater than normal flare to arrest the aircraft at the aiming point in the dip site. The higher nose pitch up prompted the SIC to advise the PIC to move forward of the trees before descending any further to ensure tail rotor clearance. Clear of the trees, the flare was increased.

While descending with a nose-high attitude, the aircraft struck the water tail-first, submerging and removing the tail rotor, causing rapid rotation to the right through one and half turns. While rotating, the main rotor blades separated as they contacted water. The right cockpit door separated from the fuselage, and the aircraft came to rest on its left side, submerging the cockpit.

Each crewmember recalled the rehearsed drills from their helicopter underwater escape training (HUET). They identified their seat belt and nearest exit to orientate themselves in the aircraft. They all waited until the last moment to draw a breath, and did not unbuckle and exit the helicopter until motion had ceased. The crew reported that it was not possible to see anything underwater, and that jet fuel contamination was present.

The SIC in the right seat exited through his doorway, from which the door was already missing. The PIC could not open his door so he swam across the cabin (up) and was assisted by the SIC to exit through the right hand door. As the rear door was jammed, the crew chief in the aft seat pushed out a window from the rear of the cabin, and exited through it.

Neither pilot unplugged their helmet. However, the extension cords from the aircraft to the helmet plug allowed the plug to release, preventing the helmets from snaring the pilots. All three crew escaped, and inflated their life jackets. Two crew were uninjured, and one crewmember sustained a knee injury.

At the time of the accident, crews aboard S-76 and S-61N helicopters were assessing the potential of the dip site for later use in night operations. An AAS aboard the S-76 relayed details of the accident to an incident controller who enacted the emergency response plan. Neither the S-76 nor the S-61N was equipped or able to provide direct assistance, other than monitoring, and relaying information. Following exit from the helicopter, the only form of communication available to the Skycrane crew was hand signals. They gave thumbs-up indications to the crew of the overhead S-61N to advise that they were okay. The Skycrane crew then swam to shore and trekked through dense bush to a road where they were met by rescuers.

Findings
These findings should not be read as apportioning blame or liability to any particular organization or individual.

  • The crew conducted a tight descending right hand turn into the dam [lake], inside the upper margins of the flight envelope. This approach required a steep flare on arrival and likely resulted in the rapid onset of vortex ring state.
  • The dam’s [lake’s] steep sides and narrow tapered body provided limited opportunity for vortex ring state recovery actions, contributing to collision with water.
  • The Crew Chief’s presence aboard the aircraft during firebombing operations exposed him to unnecessary risk.
  • All crewmembers credited their survival to skills learned and practiced in Helicopter Underwater Escape Training. In addition, the helmet cord extension cables detached easily from the aircraft, contributing directly to the crew’s egress from the flooded cockpit.

Fire Aviation operations during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Eastern Geographic Area has released their Wildland Fire Response Plan (WRP) for the COVID-19 pandemic. The 83-page document was written, compiled, and assembled by the Eastern Area Type 2 Incident Management Team led by Steve Goldman, working under Tim Sexton’s Area Command Team. The three Area Command Teams were responsible for WRPs for the rest of the United States.

All of the teams worked directly with each Geographic Area’s Coordinating Group Chair, dispatch/coordination centers, and local units. They also worked under the direction and supervision of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC), through a Team Coordinator (Joe Reinarz) and maintained frequent contact and communication through multiple daily briefings to the NMAC.

The plans were developed using a standardized template and a process for national standardization; but development included attention and inclusion of all specific concerns for the Geographic Area covered by each plan.

In this article we are covering the Eastern Area plan, but based on standardization and the use of a template there may be a significant amount of duplication between plans, which will facilitate inter-Geographic Area responses — if that even occurs under the pandemic.

Wildfire Today covered the general provisions of the Eastern Area plan, but below are excerpts specifically about fire aviation. The entire official document can be downloaded here.


All Rotor Wing Operations

Prevention
Best practices to prevent exposure:
• Briefings: utilize video conferencing, texting, messaging, radio or loud speaker.
• Limit who enters the aircraft and airbase to pilots and flight crews only.
• Work with minimum crew staffing levels to limit exposure.
• For crew and passenger safety follow FAA COVID-19 Guidance.
• Consider putting helicopters into limited status, and 2:1 management where when possible.
• Use one hour call backs during periods of low activity.
• Evaluate allowing vendors to stage at their home base with a 24-48 hour call back.
• With approval of the Contracting Officer, reimburse vendors for transporting relief pilots and crews by vehicle and or light aircraft versus commercial airlines.
• Ensure technological capability to participate in a virtual/ remote environment.

Incident Response
Best practices during mobilization/at incident and through demobilization:
• Follow guidance included in All Personnel Safety Guidance Appendix A.
• Use paperless dispatching (106 dispatch, text message, Cad, rip and run, kneeboard).
• Consider assigning a Rotor Wing Coordinator early in the season at the GACC to increase efficiency.
• Maintain situational awareness of others being transported and working with on the fireline.
• Reconnaissance, passenger transport or other non-module member flights will be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
• Photo or video sharing of incident will be utilized for situational awareness to avoid adding personnel to the confined space of the aircraft.
• Pilot and mechanic should decontaminate interior and exterior of the aircraft between missions per GSA/OEM/NBAA guidance.

Exposure Response
Best practices in the event of a presumptive exposure.
• Personnel should report symptoms or potential COVID-19 exposure to supervisor immediately and initiate onsite self-isolation/self-quarantine.
• Supervisor will report through chain of command to IC or local agency administrator.
• Incident staff will interview person affected for symptoms and determine locations and other personnel that might have been exposed, using COVID-19 approved protocols.
• When possible use virtual interview methods.
• Decontaminate any equipment and locations before returning to service.
• Demobilize person virtually, to home unit if possible; follow COVID-19 public health orders.
• Follow existing public health orders for transportation arrangements back to unit.
• Incident staff will work to identify and inform others potentially exposed, check for symptoms and determine if there is a need for decontamination or further action.
• Follow agency protocols and regulations regarding use of affected person’s name(s) and information.
• Place aircraft out of service until properly decontaminated per GSA/OEM or NBAA guidance.
• Return aircraft to contract availability by the appropriate maintenance inspector.
• Notify Controlling aircraft or dispatch of status change.
• Contact Contracting Officer to place aircraft out of service.
• Isolate aircraft away from active operations and personnel.
• Follow CDC and current local/state department of health guidelines.

Fixed Wing Aviation

Prevention
Best practices to prevent exposure:
• Briefings: utilize video conferencing, texting, messaging, radio or loud speaker.
• Limit who enters an airbase, seaplane base and the aircraft, to flight crews and pilots only. Do not conduct tours or allow observers to gather near the facility.
• For crew and passenger safety follow FAA COVID-19 Guidance.
• Limit multi use of headsets, helmets, knee boards, gloves, flight suits, tools, etc.
• After each flight the pilot should follow GSA/OEM/ NBAA guidance to decontaminate the aircraft interior including handles, interior seating, seat harnesses and the cockpit.
• After maintenance, decontaminate the aircraft per GSA/OEM/NBAA guidance.
• Work closely with the GACC to return tactical (SMKJ, LEAD, ATGSs, ATs, etc.) and flight support crews to the same base every night to eliminate travel induced exposure for flight and maintenance crews.
• Ensure technological capability to participate in a virtual/ remote environment.

Incident Response
Best practices during mobilization/at incident and through demobilization:
• Follow guidance included in All Personnel Safety Guidance Appendix A.
• Use electronic dispatch orders of resources (106 dispatch card, Kneeboard, etc.).
• Use minimum crew staffing levels to limit exposure.
• Consider pooling ATGSs within the GACCs and assign as needed. Utilize multiple bases during high activity, even though other bases may be farther from the incident if support staffing will allow.
• Maintain situational awareness of passengers’ social distancing and potential symptoms; report any observed symptoms through chain of command.
• Work closely with the Dispatch Offices and the GACC to return pilots and flight crews to the same base every night, preferably home, to eliminate travel induced exposure for flight and maintenance crews.
• Consider assigning Fixed Wing and Airspace Coordinators prior to actual fire season

Exposure Response
Best practices in the event of a presumptive exposure.
• Personnel should report symptoms or potential COVID-19 exposure to supervisor immediately and initiate onsite self-isolation/self-quarantine.
Supervisor will report through chain of command to IC or local agency administrator.
• Incident staff will interview person affected for symptoms and determine locations and other personnel that might have been exposed, using COVID-19 approved protocols.
• When possible use virtual interview methods.
• Decontaminate any equipment and locations before returning to service.
• Demobilize person virtually, to home unit if possible; follow COVID-19 public health orders.
• Follow existing public health orders for transportation arrangements back to unit.
• Incident staff will work to identify and inform others potentially exposed, check for symptoms and determine if there is a need for decontamination or further action.
• Follow agency protocols and regulations regarding use of affected person’s name(s) and information.
• Place aircraft out of service until properly decontaminated per GSA/OEM or NBAA guidance.
• Return aircraft to contract availability by the appropriate maintenance inspector.
• Notify Controlling aircraft or dispatch of status change.
• Contact Contracting Officer to place aircraft out of service.
• Isolate aircraft away from active operations and personnel.
• Follow CDC and current local/state department of health guidelines.

Airbase/Helibase Operations

Prevention
Best practices to prevent exposure:
• Briefings: utilize video conferencing, texting, messaging, radio or loudspeaker.
• Limit who enters the aircraft and airbase to pilots and flight crews only.
• Work with minimum crew staffing levels to limit exposure.
• Follow FAA COVID-19 Guidance.
• Follow GSA/OEM/NBAA disinfection guidance after each flight or after maintenance / fueling.
• If possible, contract for a block of rooms or apartments for the season for agency and contractor flight crews to use. Sanitize the rooms prior to and after each use.
• Work closely with the Dispatch Office and the GACC to return ATGSs, ATs, LEADs and flight crews to the same base every night to eliminate travel induced exposure.
• Use the contract one-hour call back to reduce the number of personnel at the airbase.
• Faster ordering of additional aircraft to lessen firefighters needed on the ground through more aggressive initial attack.
• Consider options such as double crewing all aircraft during periods of high use and call up additional CWN services to obtain a more aggressive initial attack.
• Ensure technological capability to participate in a virtual/ remote environment.

Incident Response
• Best practices during mobilization/at incident and through demobilization: Follow guidance included in All Personnel Safety Guidance Appendix A.
Use multiple bases during the response, even though other bases may be farther from the incident in order to limit the amount of personnel at the airbase.
• Install and use additional retardant loaders to limit hose and nozzle contacts.
• Communicate with other bases and dispatch to ensure positive coordination (airspace, radio frequencies, supervision assigned, etc.) as multiple aircraft from different bases and agencies may be present during initial attack.

Exposure Response
Best practices in the event of a presumptive exposure.
• Personnel should report symptoms or potential COVID-19 exposure to supervisor immediately and initiate onsite self-isolation/self-quarantine.
• Supervisor will report through chain of command to IC or local agency administrator.
• Incident staff will interview person affected for symptoms and determine locations and other personnel that might have been exposed, using COVID-19 approved protocols.
• When possible use virtual interview methods.
• Decontaminate any equipment and locations before returning to service.
• Demobilize person virtually, to home unit if possible; follow COVID-19 public health orders.
• Follow existing public health orders for transportation arrangements back to unit.
• Incident staff will work to identify and inform others potentially exposed, check for symptoms and determine if there is a need for decontamination or further action.
• Follow agency protocols and regulations regarding use of affected person’s name(s) and information.
• Place aircraft out of service until properly decontaminated per GSA/OEM or NBAA guidance.
• Return aircraft to contract availability by the appropriate maintenance inspector.
• Notify Controlling aircraft or dispatch of status change.
• Contact Contracting Officer to place aircraft out of service.
• Isolate aircraft away from active operations and personnel.
• Follow CDC and current local/state department of health guidelines.

Vertol helicopter helps extinguish bark dust fire in Washington

helicopter Vertol Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
A Vertol, operated by Columbia Helicopters, helped to suppress a bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

(This article first appeared at WildfireToday.com)

The report below is from Longview Fire Department:

On April 12  at 2:37 p.m. a passerby called 911 to report a bark dust fire at Swanson Bark and Wood Products, in Longview, Washington about 40 miles north of Portland, Oregon. The company specializes in taking wood waste and turning it into useful products, including firewood, mulch, bark dust, and soils.

Responding to 911 calls at Swanson Bark is not an unusual occurrence because the large piles of bark dust and other products off-gas regularly as a natural part of the composting and decomposition process. Staff at Swanson use temperature probes to assess the risk, and small fires are not uncommon and are generally handled by on-site staff.
While fire units were en route, Cowlitz 911 called the facility and they confirmed they had a surface fire that they were actively attempting to extinguish. During this same timeframe Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue was battling a structure fire on Regland Rd. Shortly after the Swanson dispatch a brush fire was dispatched to Astro Road in rural Kelso, further taxing the regional resources.

map Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Satellite photo showing the location of a bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.

When Longview Fire arrived they encountered a large bark dust pile that was burning and spreading to adjacent piles. Strong winds out of the northwest coupled with access issues to the multiple piles of recyclables, smoke, and visibility challenges, combined with the available water supply all created challenges for firefighters. With the other active fires, staffing was also below normal.

As the fire continued to spread over the entire 80 acre site, buildings, machinery, vehicles, and conveyors were damaged or destroyed. Firefighters deployed multiple hand lines and two aerial ladder trucks, flowing in excess of 2.5 million gallons of water in their suppression efforts. The incident commander requested a firefighting helicopter to assist, but none were locally available.

Fire suppression efforts were suspended at approximately 4:00 AM, however, dozens of bark and wood products piles were still smoldering, creating a smoke cloud that continued to drift.

Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

On April 13 Swanson Bark and Wood Products took over the overhaul phase, utilizing loaders and excavators to move the product while extinguishing the fires. Swanson also contracted with two helicopter services to aid in full suppression. It is expected that this fire could smolder for days, and if winds pick up, active fire could again be encountered.

Firefighters from Longview, Kalama, Cowlitz Fire District 1, Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue, and Woodland were utilized to extinguish the blaze. Resources included pumping fire apparatus, ladder trucks, water tenders, and brush rigs. Firefighters have yet to complete an investigation, and no damage estimates are available at this time. There were no staff or firefighter injuries reported.

Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

The video below is from the Longview Fire Department.

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

Bloomberg article about Australian fire aviation

Bloomberg graphic fires wildfires air tankers Australia
Bloomberg graphic, showing the flight paths of various firefighting and mapping aircraft in Australia.

When a reporter for Bloomberg asked me if she could interview me I said OK, as long as I could have the rights to publish the article on my web site — Mira Rojanasakul said yes. I thought the article, written with Hayley Warren, was going to be primarily about air tankers, and those used in Australia in particular, but now that it has been published today I see that it also covers how climate change is affecting wildfires down under and in the United States.

In addition to being a writer, Ms. Rojanasakul is an accomplished graphics editor for Bloomberg. And that’s why I’m writing about this article and why you should check it out. She takes graphics to a higher level.

Here are some samples.

Bloomberg graphic fires wildfires air tankers Australia
Bloomberg graphic showing the flight paths of North America based air tankers that travelled to Australia for their 2019-2020 wildfire season.
Bloomberg graphic fires wildfires air tankers Australia
The occurrence of wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California showing how some of them occurred during the summer bushfire season in Australia. If aviation resources are going to be shared between North America and Australia, this information comes into play. Bloomberg graphic.
Bloomberg graphic fires wildfires air tankers Australia
Bloomberg graphic
Bloomberg graphic fires wildfires air tankers Australia
Bloomberg graphic

Here is an animated .gif of one of the graphics. The description from the Bloomberg site, “Between July 2019 and February 2020, nearly 40,000 flights by firefighting aircraft were taken over southeast Australia.” A much better and larger animated version is on the Bloomberg website.

NWCG: Best practices for fire aviation during COVID-19 pandemic

“Airbases or aircraft may be unstaffed or closed due to COVID-19”

MAFFS C-130 Wyoming National Guard
A MAFFS C-130 from the Wyoming National Guard refills its tank during training at Boise April 21, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Interagency Aviation Preparedness Task Team (IAPTT) has developed recommendations for managing fire aviation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team is requesting that the National Interagency Aviation Committee (NIAC), which is chartered by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, approve a list of best management practices (BMP).

The IAPTT calls the BMPs “a living document to allow changes as they are needed without confusing the aviation community,” and recommended that it be posted on the NWCG website.”

Here are some excerpts:

  • Ensure implementation of the recommended wildland fire screening protocol by the NWCG’s Emergency Medical Committee (ETA, TBD) for everyone entering the airbase.
  • Contractors and agency personnel need to document daily activities and interactions (location, date, time, and names if possible) daily. This information may be requested if a known exposure has occurred.
  • Contractors and agency personnel shall carry and use disinfecting supplies for protection of aircraft and personnel.
  • Restrict access to the bases and all aircraft to essential personnel only.
  • Keep aircrews separate from other aircrews, contractors and base personnel. Recommend adding temporary facilities and supplies, such as: travel trailers, tents, mobile offices, portable toilets, wash stations, ice chests, etc. to reduce cross contamination.
  • During periods of standby and extended standby, allow flight crews to isolate themselves in quarters and respond from quarters directly to aircraft with minimal person-to-person contact with public and base personnel.
  • For personnel working at the airbase, recommend use of N-95 mask while working in tight spaces to protect against exposure such as the potential for coughing and sneezing.
  • Evaluate MAP start dates to existing conditions to potentially allow vendors to either start the MAP later or to stage/standby at the contractor’s base of operations.
  • Identify home bases for those resources currently without, such as large, very large airtankers, and CWN aircraft.
  • Align aircraft, aircrew, and crew days off.
  • Program managers, contracting officers, and contractors are encouraged to create schedules to minimize or eliminate aircrew rotations, including the need for relief crews.
  • Avoid the use of relief crews. If relief crews are used, CORs, COs and vendors shall develop a travel plan that avoids, as practicable, commercial travel and utilizes driving or chartering aircraft for crew transport to and from the home base or the alternate work location. Work with the contracting officers to identify applicable reimbursement costs and procedures.
  • When proper separation at an airbase cannot be achieved, utilize alternate locations on the airfield or adjacent airports, to stage aircraft that do not require the infrastructure of an airtanker base (e.g. helicopters, light fixed wing etc.).
  • If possible the aircraft and crews should recover nightly at the assigned permanent or temporary home base.
  • Use long term rental or agency vehicles and long term lodging to reduce exposure. Sanitize both lodging and vehicles before, during, and after use.
  • Restrict boosting out of the local area. Evaluate R&R the existing crew in place and/or reducing staffing for the duration of the assignment. [note from Bill: this apparently refers to mobilizing smokejumpers to stage at locations other than their home base]
  • Reduce staffing numbers when approved and applicable such as:
    • Requesting 2 helicopters for each helicopter manager as appropriate (restricted/limited).
    • Expect to utilize and provide pre-approvals for extension of personnel to 21 days.
  • When military aircraft are activated, position them away from existing contractor aircraft, agency personnel and existing agency bases. Consider for MAFFS units to reload only at their activated MAFFS base.
  • Consider that resources ordered out of state may be required to quarantine for 14 days either upon arrival or return from assignment.
  • Staff base with minimal personnel during standby periods allowing the remaining base personnel to work and respond from quarters.
  • Utilize virtual briefings to minimize person to person contact. Utilize conference lines, email, Microsoft Teams or other similar multi-media resources with links to appropriate briefing materials.
  • Aircraft dispatch forms shall be delivered to all resources electronically instead of person-to-person or information can be relayed over the radio.
  • When available utilize additional agency vehicles to transport crews while maintaining social distancing. If agency vehicles are not available acquire long term rental vehicles. Contact local dispatch for assistance on emergency equipment rentals.
  • Minimize transporting passengers as much as possible; clean each aircraft between flights in accordance to FAA direction. https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/air/managing-sick-travelers/ncov-airlines.html
  • Eliminate the use of shared personal protective equipment (e.g. headsets and flight helmets).
  • Clean personal protective equipment (e.g. headsets and flight helmets) before and after utilization.
  • Due to the dynamic situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, airbase operations at times may not meet policy requirements. In these cases, prior to the deviation, it will be reported to supervisors who in conjunction with aviation managers will analyze the risk and determine if the operation should continue.
  • All cargo being transported via aircraft will be handled by essential personnel only.  Handling of cargo should be accomplished with the minimum personnel as possible and all personnel will handle cargo with proper PPE at all times.
  • All personnel that show any symptoms of illness are to immediately isolate as recommended by CDC/FAA and follow agency, CDC, and state guidelines for notifications, testing and quarantines.
  • Airbases and/or aircraft may be unstaffed or closed due to COVID-19. Do not staff or open a contaminated airbase or aircraft without proper decontamination. Notify controlling dispatch and/or coordination center of status changes.
  • COVID-19 risk mitigation shall not increase or transfer risk to flight crews. Flight crews will determine mission “go, no go” decision based on proper risk mitigation.

The excerpts above comprise only a portion of the four-page document which can be found on the NWCG website.

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