Washington, D.C., December 18, 2013…Aerial firefighters have quickly deployed helicopters to California’s scenic Big Sur coastline to contain a stubborn wildfire burning since Sunday, December 15 in the nearby Los Padres National Forest.
The Pfeiffer Fire, which has destroyed over 550 acres and 15 homes, is happening during what is normally the close of the California fire season.
“This is unusually late in the season for us to activate a helicopter to work a fire of this size,” said Larry Kelley, Director Fire Operations, for Howell, Michigan-based CHI Aviation. “At this time of year, we are usually focused on performing heavy maintenance, because that is when the fire season in the Western US is normally over. Right now, we would be spending our time catching up on repairs in preparation for the 2014 fire season.”
CHI Aviation, Kelley explained, deployed a 9-place Bell 205 on December 16, along with a pilot, fuel truck driver, and mechanic. Based at McClellan Airport in Sacramento, the aircraft is operating out of the airfield at Fort Hunter-Liggett, which is situated near the fire. “We were fortunate that the heavy maintenance on that helicopter was completed in September, so it was ready to go,” he reported.
The Bell 205 is being operated under an exclusive use contract from the US Forest Service (USFS), and is capable of water dropping and transporting ground-based firefighters. Kelley added that if the USFS requests, the company is ready to send additional aircraft to the fire.
Within 24 hours of the CHI Aviation helicopter call-up, Columbia Helicopters of Portland, Oregon, dispatched a Vertol 107-II twin rotor helicopter to Fort Hunter Liggett for firefighting duty. Equipped with an 1,100-gallon Bambi Bucket for water-dropping, the helicopter, which deployed with two pilots, and two mechanics, was pulled from a logging job at Oakridge, Oregon, according to Dan Sweet, the company’s Director of Corporate Communications.
“We never expect fires this late in the year, but our aircraft carry their firefighting equipment everywhere they go,” said Sweet. “There’s always a chance a fire will break out – even during winter – and our helicopters might be needed. We try to stay prepared.”
“Preparation for immediate action, year-round, is a matter of pride, and typical of the privately-operated aerial firefighting fleet,” explained Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA). “It appears the wildland fire season can now cover an entire year and affords no time off for the private operators who have shown they are ready to go wherever needed at a moment’s notice.”
CHI Aviation and Columbia Helicopters are members of AHSAFA, the Washington, DC-based trade association representing the commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.