Private Aerial Firefighters Deploying Aircraft To San Diego County Fires

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Private operators of fixed wing tankers and helicopters are deploying assets to San Diego County, California, to help fight a series of catastrophic, still uncontained fires which have destroyed nearly 10,000 acres, and an estimated 30 structures to date.

"Our focus has been on the Freeway Fire near Camp Pendleton since May 13, using a P2V and a BAe 146 tanker flying out of San Bernardino," said Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer of Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula, Montana.  Those two aircraft are among four tankers which Neptune has positioned in California, starting in February, under US Forest Service (USFS) legacy contracts.  As of May 15th, those two aircraft have flown 17 combined missions on the San Diego County fires.  The company's other two tankers, both P2Vs, are based at Porterville and Santa Maria in California.

"Historically, late summer to early fall is the start of the fire season in California," Snyder added.  "Contracts are usually not activated until mid-March to May, but we were put under contract in February, because of the high fire danger so early in the year in California and throughout much of the Southwest."

In a related development, the USFS just awarded Neptune Aviation Services three additional line items under the company's legacy contract, covering three BAe 146 tankers.  Two of those tankers commenced a mandatory availability period (MAP) of 160 days on May 16, while the third tanker begins a 120 day MAP on June 1.

"Although this action was not a direct result of the fires in Southern California, those fires are certainly an indication of the severity of the fire season which lies ahead," noted Neptune Aviation Services Chief Executive Officer Ron Hooper.

Larry Kelley, Director Fire Operations for CHI Aviation in Boise, Idaho, reported that on May 15, the company dispatched a Bell 205 to the CALFIRE air tanker base at Ramona, California, under a USFS exclusive use contract.  "It was originally slated for deployment on May 28, but given the situation in Southern California, it was called up two weeks early," said Kelley. 

Mission assignments for the nine-passenger helicopter, which is based at Trinity, California, will be allocated at the discretion of the USFS, and include water dropping, cargo hauling, or firefighter transport

Kelley added that a Bell 205 at Salmon, Idaho, and a Bell 212 at Ogden, Utah, are both under USFS exclusive use contract, and are in a standby mode for possible dispatch to Southern California.

"The advanced preparations and early rapid deployment capability shown by the private aerial firefighting industry are proving invaluable to the efforts to contain the fires that have become increasingly destructive, especially in the urban-wildland interface in Southern California," said Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA).  "There is every expectation that widespread fires of this kind will become the new normal, given climate change driven by global warming.  A viable, privately operated aerial firefighting force will therefore become an even more essential part of the fire protection toolbox."

CHI Aviation and Neptune Aviation Services are both members of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association that represents the privately operated aerial firefighting industry.

Media Contact: Tom Eversole, American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association, 703040904355,

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SOURCE American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association



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