As the huge Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs reaches 50 percent containment, and other fires continue to burn throughout the state, AHSAFA member helicopter operators continue to assist ground-based firefighters working to contain the widespread destruction.
“We deployed one of our helicopters to Colorado Springs at the direction of the US Forest Service, which has it under an exclusive use contract,” said Dan Sweet, Public Relations Manager for Columbia Helicopters in Portland, Oregon. The aircraft, a twin rotor, twin engine Columbia Helicopters Model 107, uses a 1,100 gallon capacity external Bambi bucket to dispense water or fire retardant, and is support in the field by two pilots, a copilot, six mechanics and two fuel truck drivers. The helicopter, Sweet reported, had been working a fire near Casper, Wyoming until June 28, when it was ordered to Colorado Springs.
The Waldo Canyon fire, which has consumed over 18,500 acres, caused hundreds of residents to evacuate, and continues to pose a direct threat to the United States Air Force Academy. At the time the helicopter arrived, containment was about five percent.
Elsewhere in Colorado, Erickson Air-Crane, has had three of its twin-engine, S-64 helitankers on the High Park Fire near Fort Collins since June 20. The unique aircraft are equipped for water or fire retardant dropping, using a 2,000 gallon capacity external tank. Each is supported by a crew of six, including two pilots, to mechanics, one fuel truck driver, and one maintenance vehicle operator.
Also assisting on the High Park fire was Michigan-based Construction Helicopters, which, for 21 days, deployed a Bell 212HP, until it was released on June 28, for redeployment to other hot spots in the West. The twin-engine helicopter, which was based in Ogden, Utah, uses a 274 gallon capacity external bucket system to drop water or fire retardant, and is supported by a pilot, mechanic and fuel truck driver.
According to Larry Kelley, Construction Helicopters' Manager of West Coast Operations, an additional helicopter, a Bell 205A-1++, assigned to Dillon, Montana, was flown to Colorado, and for the past two weeks has been working in an initial attack role in and around Rifle, Craig, and Glenwood Springs. Currently, it is working out of Grand Junction.
“The Colorado wildfires are further proof that this is one of the worst fire seasons on record in the Western US,” said Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association. “The actions of Columbia Helicopters, Erickson Air-Crane, and Construction Helicopters are proving the capability of the privately operated aerial firefighting industry to respond when needed, as wildland fires increase in intensity, given the dry conditions throughout so much of the country.”
The three companies are members of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), a Washington-based trade association representing commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.