Rapid Response is Key as California Fire Season Explodes

In response to a proliferation of large fires throughout the far western US, Neptune Aviation Services has activated three BAe 146 air tankers, with just four day’s’ notice from the US Forest Service (USFS) under Call When Needed (CWN) agreements.  The tanker activations took place with the conclusion of maintenance carding inspections of the aircraft by the USFS, following the agency’s exercising of the agreements with Neptune on June 18.

“Two of the tankers were immediately deployed to Twin Falls, Idaho, and Redmond, Oregon, due to fire conditions in those areas,” said Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer of the Missoula, Montana-based company.  “The third has joined one of our P2Vs in Reno, Nevada, from which they are working on the Washington Fire.  That fire has destroyed more than 16,000 acres, to date, near Lake Tahoe.”

Snyder added that a fourth Neptune-operated BAe 146 could be activated within days.  “Assuming that all four go on duty this week, Neptune Aviation will have 11 aircraft actively engaged on fires.”  That, he reported, would include a BAe 146 flying under an exclusive use contract in Alaska, as well as three P2Vs currently working the Lake Fire in Southern California, out of a USFS tanker base in San Bernardino, and also under exclusive use contracts.

The Lake Fire is, in fact, the largest inferno of the 2015 California fire season, so far, as it continues to burn through the San Bernardino National Forest, just east of Los Angeles.  The fire, which broke out on June 17, has already scorched nearly 19,000 acres.

“After a slow start to the fire season, we are suddenly seeing an explosion of fires throughout California,” Snyder observed.

As fires in the western United States have proliferated, Rogers Helicopters of Fresno, California, has mobilized two Bell 212s for water dropping and fire fighter transport. “One helicopter is working on the Lake Fire out of Big Bear, while another has been deployed to Minden, Nevada,” said Robin Rogers, the company’s Vice President.  He added that two of its Aero Commander fixed wing twin turboprops, used in air traffic command and control missions, have also been activated.  One is operating out of Grass Valley, northeast of Sacramento, California, and another is working from the company’s Fresno base, on the Corrine Fire in Madera County, California.

“Unfortunately, the dire predictions regarding the 2015 fire season are coming true.  Ongoing drought conditions are continuing to provide the greatest fire danger levels throughout the far western states, especially California,” said George Hill, executive director of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) in Washington, D.C.  “Privately operated aerial tanker and helicopter companies provide the rapid response needed to meet the challenge of what is already becoming a season of multiple large fires. Contractual vehicles such as the CWN agreements allow the USFS to rapidly activate and employ all of the resources available.”

Neptune Aviation Services and Rogers Helicopters are members of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association representing the private aerial firefighting companies before Congress, the US Forest Service, and other agencies with responsibility for wild land management.

Aerial Firefighters Respond As Lightning Sparks Western Wildfires

Washington, D.C., June 17, 2015…Aerial firefighters are responding quickly to a rash of lightning-sparked wildland fires in the far western United States, thanks to earlier than normal prepositioning of aircraft and their support personnel.

At least two major fires—the Saddle Fire in Northern California’s Trinity-Stanislaus National Forest which has consumed nearly 1,600 acres, and the Buckskin Fire in the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest in Southern Oregon, which has burned over 2,200 acres—are thought to be caused by lightning.

“Fires are breaking out at higher altitudes—between 5,000 and 8,500 feet above sea level—earlier than usual for this time of year,” said Robin Rogers, Vice-President of Rogers Helicopters in Fresno, California.  “With no snowpack, and because of the ongoing drought, conditions at those elevations are extremely dry, and are at high risk of lightning-caused fires.  We haven’t seen this since the mid-seventies.”

Rogers reported that his company has had a Bell 212 working on the Saddle Fire since June 10, transporting ground-based fire crews and carrying out water drops.  It joined another Rogers Helicopters Bell 212, which was sent to the Stanislaus National Forest on June 9.  Both were originally slated to go on contract on June 16, but were deployed early given the fire emergency.

Portland, Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters currently has a Vertol 107-II, and a Model 234 Chinook on the Buckskin Fire.  According to Dan Sweet, the company’s Public Relations Manager, both helicopters were also prepositioned earlier than planned, and are operating out of Grants Pass, Oregon.  “The Vertol 107-II has been on the fire since June 11, which was four days before it was originally scheduled to go on contract,” Sweet explained.

The Vertol 107-II, along with the Chinook, which was dispatched to southern Oregon on June 9, are engaged in water dropping using external buckets of 1,100 and 2,600 gallons, respectively.

“There is very high fire danger in the area due to lighting activity, combined with very dry conditions,” Sweet observed. “Normally, we do not see wildland fires in southern Oregon until the July/August timeframe, so this is unusually early.  He added that during a normal fire season, the company’s helicopters would be operating in New Mexico and Arizona.  “This is usually their big fire season, but this year—so far—it has not materialized.”

Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer of Neptune Aviation in Missoula, Montana, reported that two of the company’s P2V Neptunes are currently fighting the Saddle Fire, flying out of tanker bases in Redding, while two additional P2V Neptunes are operating from Chico on smaller fires in the area.  “The Saddle Fire is the first large fire in California this year, but we have also been working on smaller fires throughout California for the past month,” Snyder said.  Neptune Aviation has been engaged on the Saddle Fire, doing fire retardant drops, since June 10.

“The dynamics of this year’s fire season in the far western US have underscored the flexibility of the privately operated aerial firefighting industry to respond when and to where needed,” said George Hill, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA).  “Earlier than normal deployments, sometimes on very short notice, have presented no problems for our operators.”

Columbia Helicopters, Neptune Aviation and Rogers Helicopters are members of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association which represents privately owned aerial tanker operators before Congress, the US Forest Service, and other federal regulatory agencies involved with government contracting and wildland protection responsibilities.