Rappeller descending to a wildfire struggles with a tree

At the East Plum Fire in Colorado

rappelling to the East Plum Fire in Colorado
Two firefighters rappelling to the East Plum Fire in Colorado. Screenshot from July 9, 2020 Denver 7 video.

A video shot from a helicopter on July 9, 2020 got good footage of two firefighters rappelling from a helicopter to initial attack the East Plum Fire about seven miles southwest of Larkspur, Colorado, south of Denver on the Pike & San Isabel National Forests.

It appeared to be routine at first. One of them landed safely on the ground, but the other appeared to have difficulty descending through a tree. Either the firefighter or the person’s rope, or both, apparently became entangled in the limbs of a fairly small tree about 15 feet off the ground. While the firefighter on the ground looked up and moved around, the hung-up firefighter was actively moving his or her arms around, perhaps trying to gather the rope below so it could be untangled and dropped again, so the rappel could be completed.

Rappelling East Plum Fire
Rappelling to the East Plum Fire in Colorado. One firefighter on the ground looks up at a second rappelling firefighter who appeared to encounter difficulty with a tree. Screenshot from July 9, 2020 Denver 7 video.

This went for about two and a half minutes before the firefighter made it to the ground, and all the while the helicopter was hovering. The view from the news helicopter’s camera was partially blocked at times, so I could not determine if the helicopter was maintaining tension on the rope, or if the weight of the firefighter was supported by the tree. But I imagine the pilot had to be very careful to not drag the firefighter up through the tree’s canopy. The rope and the firefighter possibly being entangled in the limbs could have made that inadvisable.

East Plum Fire
East Plum Fire. Screenshot from July 9, 2020 Denver 7 video.

A total of six firefighters rappelled into the fire which ultimately burned 0.3 acre. The next day, July 10, a hotshot crew hiked in, built and improved fireline around the fire, then hiked out. Six firefighters, possibly the six rappellers, spent two nights on the third of an acre fire and hiked out on July 11.

An air tanker dropped retardant on July 9 and a heavy helicopter assisted firefighters by dropping water on July 10.

The video can be seen on Facebook. The rappel begins at about 7:20.

More details about the East Plum Fire from the U.S. Forest Service.

We reached out to the Pike & San Isabel National Forests for more information about this incident. If we receive a response we will update this article.

Colorado to hire an exclusive use large air tanker for the first time

This would be an upgrade over the existing CWN contract. One aircraft that might be considered is a P3 Orion.

air tanker 23 P3 orion dropping
File photo of one aircraft that might be considered for an EU contract for the state of Colorado, a P3 Orion, which made a demonstration drop at Northern Colorado Regional Airport June 28, 2019. It has been under a CWN contract with Colorado. Screengrab from Nine News video.

The state of Colorado intends to contract for an exclusive use (EU) large air tanker. In 2018 they signed a Call When Needed (CWN) contract for a P3 operated by Air Strike Firefighters, but the deal they are negotiating now would be the first time the Division of Fire Prevention and Control has hired an EU large air tanker.

“We are currently working with a vendor to contract one of their large air tankers,” Phillip Daniels said on June 11. He is the agency’s Deputy Chief of the Wildland Fire Management Section.  “It is our desire for the contract to begin soon for 75 days exclusive use, however, we are still in the contracting and inspecting phase of the procurement process. This would be the first occurrence of Colorado contracting [an EU] large air tanker and are ensuring that we are doing it right!  Previously we have only contracted Single Engine Air Tankers and Helicopters.”

This year, as usual, Colorado has EU contracts for two Single Engine Air Tankers and two Type 2 helicopters. The state also owns two Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-Mission” (MMA) fixed wing aircraft used for detection, mapping, and coordination.

Mr. Daniels said his understanding is one of the pilots is initial attack qualified, which means a lead plane will not be required unless there are multiple air tankers working the fire. He said if a lead plane is needed, they will order one through the interagency process.

“And while we occasionally have an ATGS [Air Tactical Group Supervisor] on board the MMA, it’s primary mission is recon,” he explained. “We try not to assign it to missions where it can’t easily be reassigned for detection.”

PC-12 Colorado aircraft MMA
File photo of one of Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft” at Sacramento McClellan Airport March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The first short-haul rescue completed at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Short-haul rescue
Short-haul rescue in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, June 2, 2020. NPS photo by Tom Schaefer.

After training for years, on June 2 park rangers at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park executed their first short-haul rescue in the park.

It involved a man who had taken a 50-foot lead climbing fall on the Scenic Cruise climbing route in Cruise Gully. Despite having a broken ankle, the 43-year-old climber from South Jordan, Utah was able to rappel to the base of the route. Rangers responded to the scene and arranged for a short haul rescue to the south rim helicopter landing pad.

Short haul is the transportation of personnel suspended under a helicopter on a fixed line. Black Canyon rangers have been training with Mesa Verde Helitack for the last two years.

The park is in southwest Colorado northeast of Montrose.

An introduction to the Durango Airtanker Base

Helicopters and air tankers work out of the base in southwest Colorado

Durango Airtanker Base

The video below was posted to YouTube June 2, 2020 by the Southwest Colorado Wildfire Coalition, with this description:

Air resources can be extremely valuable in fighting a wildland fire. In Southwestern Colorado, with the dry weather this year and high or very high fire danger, we’ve already seen several small fires. Some were sparked by lightning, some were human-caused. The Durango Air Tanker Base has pre-positioned two small tankers, along with the Durango Helitack crew and has more resources on the way in anticipation of an active fire season.

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

Two new Firehawks tested in Colorado

Eventually will be delivered to CAL FIRE and Los Angeles County FD

Los Angeles County's new i70 Firehawk helicopter
Los Angeles County’s new S-70i Firehawk, helicopter 22, being tested at Centennial, Colorado May 7, 2020. Photo by @skippyscage.

Paul Filmer sent us these photos of new S-70i Firehawk helicopters being tested at the Centennial, Colorado Airport.

Several wildland fire agencies have used the services of United Rotorcraft at Englewood, Colorado to retrofit Sikorsky S-70i helicopters — adding extended landing gear, external belly tanks, retractable snorkels, and rescue hoists. CAL FIRE is purchasing up to 12, Los Angeles County Fire Department is adding two more to their fleet, San Diego Fire-Rescue has received one, and Ventura County FD is converting three HH-60L Blackhawks formerly operated by the U.S. military. Coulson-Unical is taking a different approach, outfitting UH-60s with RADS internal tanks.

CAL FIRE's new i70 Firehawk helicopter
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i Firehawk, helicopter 205, being tested at Centennial, Colorado May 7, 2020. Photo by @skippyscage.

Annual training and certification was held for crews of three Modular Airborne FireFighting Module (MAFFS) aircraft

Photos from Peterson Air Force Base and the training event near Denver

MAFFS training Peterson AFB Colorado fire aerial firefighting
Members of the 302nd Airlift Wing load a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Firefighting System unit into a C-130 Hercules aircraft April 23, 2020 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. On the left is the nozzle that is attached at the left side troop door. The MAFFS unit is used during annual aerial firefighting training requirements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

Last weekend members of the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing from Colorado Springs with Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing out of Cheyenne began a weeklong aerial wildland firefighting training and certification session hosted at the air tanker base at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport  (Jeffco) near Denver, Colorado. Two C-130s from Colorado Springs and one from Cheyenne were on hand.

The C-130 Hercules aircraft can be equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS), which can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. The system slides into the back of the military aircraft and retardant is sprayed under pressure through a nozzle in the troop door on the left side. MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the civilian airtanker program to slow the spread of wildland fires.

MAFFS training Peterson AFB Colorado fire aerial firefighting
Members of the 302nd Airlift Wing push a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Firefighting System unit into the bay of a C-130 Hercules aircraft April 23, 2020 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The unit holds 3,000 gallons of fire retardant and can discharge all of it in less than 5 seconds. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

The training was originally scheduled to take place in Boise at the end of April, but that was cancelled because of COVID-19. There may be another MAFFS training event in a month or so out west for the crews from Reno and southern California.

Interagency MAFFS training begins
Members of the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing and the Forest Service prepare a C-130 carrying a modular airborne fire fighting system at Jeffco Airtanker Base to participate in MAFFS training and certification April 27, 2020. (U.S. Forest Service Photo by Laura McConnell)
MAFFS training Jefferson County Airport Colorado fire aerial firefighting
MAFFS 2 is being observed by visitors at Jefferson County International Airport, April 29, 2020. Photo by Andrew Morton.
MAFFS training Peterson AFB Colorado fire aerial firefighting
Aircrew from the 302nd Airlift Wing aboard a C-130 Hercules aircraft taxi toward the Peterson Air Force Base runway with Pikes Peak in the background April 27, 2020. The aircrew are bound for Jefferson County, Colo., to conduct annual aerial firefighting training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)
MAFFS training Peterson AFB Colorado fire aerial firefighting
Members of the 302nd Airlift Wing load a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Firefighting System unit into a C-130 Hercules aircraft April 23, 2020 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. In the foreground is the nozzle that is attached at the left side troop door on the C-130. The MAFFS unit was being used during annual aerial firefighting training requirements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

Military C-130 crews train for fighting wildfires

At Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver

MAFFS aircraft at Boise C-130
MAFFS aircraft at Boise, April 20, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Military crews and C-130 aircraft are training in Colorado so that they can assist with wildfires.

Members of the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, and other firefighting agencies today began a weeklong aerial wildland firefighting training and certification session hosted at the air tanker base at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport  (Jeffco) near Denver, Colorado.

The 302nd Airlift Wing and 153rd Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules aircraft are equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS), which can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. The system slides into the back of the military aircraft and retardant is sprayed under pressure through a nozzle in the troop door on the left side. MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the civilian airtanker program to slow the spread of wildland fires.

Training drops with water will be conducted in the nearby Arapaho and Roosevelt and Pike-San Isabel National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands using potable water. Residents in those areas may see low-flying C-130 aircraft and U.S. Forest Service lead planes throughout the week. MAFFS aircraft will load water from Jeffco and will start and end their days at their home units.

The three Air National Guard wings tasked with conducting MAFFS missions include: the 146th Airlift Wing from Channel Islands, California, 152nd Airlift Wing from Reno, Nevada and the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyoming. The 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, is the only Air Force Reserve unit tasked with the MAFFS mission.

Each base has two MAFFS units that can be activated for firefighting, usually in pairs with a third C-130 carrying additional personnel and equipment. The Forest Service or other land management agencies have to reimburse the Department of Defense for the costs of the three aircraft and personnel.

The certification training sponsored by the US Forest Service includes classroom sessions, as well as flying and ground operations for Air Force aircrews, civilian lead plane pilots, support personnel from the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other state and federal firefighting agencies.

Having military C-130s that can be converted into airtankers provides a “surge” capability to augment wildfire suppression efforts when there are not enough privately owned air tankers available on Forest Service contracts.

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.