Small to massive wildfires have erupted throughout the state of California over the last couple of months.
To combat these fires, some of the first response aircraft to report to a scene are rotary-wing aircraft-helicopters and helitankers.
One of the larger helicopters is the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane produced by Erickson Inc.
There is a S-64 Skycrane, by Helicopter Transport Services, at the San Bernardino International Airport.
Battalion Chief Leslie Casavan is the manager at the air tanker at the San Bernardino International Airport.
She and her staff maintain the rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft at the base.
“This Skycrane finds any water source and brings water to an incident,” said Casavan. “This particular helicopter can hold up to 2,500 gallons of water to help extinguish a wildfire.
“The helicopter uses a flexible snorkel, or hose, to extract the water. The Sikorsky helicopter can hover-fill in about 45 seconds,” Casacan said. “Having this ability, they are able to do lot of runs that way.”
According to Casavan, each helicopter carries a pilot and a co-pilot.
“It’s considered a Type 1 helicopter,” said Casavan. “Its function in life is to lift weight.
“For firefighting, a tank is bolted on and they hang the snorkel to it. Now they’re ready for firefighting.”
According to Casasvan, these helicopters and the other rotary-wing aircraft work with the air tactical plane to determine where make water drops.
“After a fire is basically extinguished, it’s not completely out,” said Lisa Cox, the fire information officer for the San Bernardino National Forest. “Depending on where the crews are and how hard it is to access water, they’re going to need more help from the helitankers.
“Sometimes the crews are in rugged terrain and getting a water hose in the area is impossible. The ground crews will need the helicopters when they’re doing mop up and hitting those interior hot spots.”
Rotary-wing aircraft were a critical component during the recent Easton Fire in Highland.
Five helicopters and four helitankers assisted in extinguishing the fire.
The rotary-wing aircraft traveled quickly to their water sources and coordinated their flights to douse the blaze on the hillside and eventually over the ridge into the canyon.
They were visible circling over hot spots and maneuvering their buckets to drop streams of water over the charred hillside.
“We have a cooperative agreement with the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, and we bring in rotary aircraft,” said Assistant Battalion Chief Kathleen Oplinger.
“Rotary-wing aircraft will work the flanks of the fire to slow things down.
“The helitankers that were used came out of San Bernardino International Airport.”
“We were able to able to knock it [the fire] down with the State’s S-2Ts, the federal aircraft and of course with the rotary-wing aircraft.
“The rotary-wing and fixed wing aircraft are important in fighting all the fires that we encounter. They get them out.”
Rotary-wing aircraft are vital on the battlefield of wildfires and other fires that threaten homes and property.