Private Aerial Firefighters Boost State Assets In Record California Fire Season

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- In what has already been declared a record year for wild land fires in California, private operators of air tankers and helicopters have provided invaluable assistance to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), one of the few state fire protection agencies that operates its own fleet of air assets.

According to just-released CAL FIRE data, 2,990 fires erupted in the state between January 1, and July 7, compared to 2,667 during the comparable 2013 period.  So far this year, 24,218 acres have been burned, compared to 30,869 for the same time last year.  This compares with a five-year average of 2,101 fires, and 18,184 acres burned.

The fire risk is now more year-round than seasonal in California, thanks to an ongoing drought. 

"With one exception, we have been operating on a fire somewhere in California, monthly, since the start of the year," said Robin Rogers, Vice President of Rogers Helicopters in Fresno, California.  "In more normal years, we would not be called to a fire until May at the earliest.  It has been a very unusual year."

In fact, one of the company's Bell 212 HP, medium, twin-engine helicopters, operating under a CAL FIRE contract, was released less than a week ago from a now-contained fire which raged across Napa and Yolo counties in Northern California.  The helicopter, explained Rogers, was engaged in water dropping for the duration of that fire.

Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer of Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula, Montana, reported that since January, the large airtanker company has had as few as two, but as many as six of its aircraft working within California—on and off—since January.  The fleet has included as many as three of its modern, BAe 146 converted tankers, as well as its legacy P2V Neptunes.

At the height of the Napa/Yolo counties fire earlier this month, Neptune had two of its BAe 146s and one P2V flying on the fire out of Redding, California, under US Forest Service contracts.  "Since May, we've had at least one aircraft stationed in Redding at any given time," Snyder pointed out.  Two additional P2Vs are currently positioned in California—at Porterville and Lancaster.

"Earlier in the year, California accounted for the majority of our flight hours for 2014, although, most of our work has now shifted to fires in other western states," Snyder reported.  "But, that could change in a single moment."

Snyder also noted the performance of the company's BAe 146 tankers in fighting fires in California and elsewhere.  "We have found that the aircraft's improved tanking system has proven to be extremely effective, and well-received in the field.  It has exceeded all of our expectations for effectiveness."

Rick Livingston, owner of Intermountain Helicopter in Sonora, California, deployed its recently upgraded Bell 212 over a five-day period to a wildfire near Yosemite National Park for CAL FIRE.  The helicopter, which was engaged in water drops, underwent extensive modifications over the winter, including replacement of its Pratt & Whitney-Canada twin PT6-3 engines with the PT6-3B.  "It gives us an extra margin of safety, especially in the event of a single-engine-out situation," Livingston explained.

In addition, other upgrades were carried out, as a result of contractual requirements from the USFS, including a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS), and the installation of a FastFin® tail boom modification enabling the helicopter to carry additional payload, while affording easier tail rotor management, and greater stability in all flight regimes.

While the helicopter is now based in Elko, Nevada, Livingston said that it could be redeployed to California immediately.  "California is in for a very bad fire year," he remarked.

"The record number of fires in California has proven, once again, the value of maintaining a viable, privately operated aerial firefighting industry," said Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) in Washington.  Even for a state which has long maintained its own airborne firefighting capability, there will be an increasing need for outside assistance from the air, as year-round fire risk becomes the new normal."

Intermountain Helicopter, Neptune Aviation Services, and Rogers Helicopters are all members of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association representing the privately operated aerial firefighting industry in the US.

Media Contact: Tom Eversole, American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association, 703-409-4355,

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SOURCE American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association



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