U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today announced the agency is adding four heavy helicopters to the aviation firefighting fleet.
“The addition of these helicopters to our aviation fleet will increase our ability to respond quickly and aggressively to fight wildfires and protect lives and property,” said Tidwell. “We will continue to mobilize our firefighting assets when and where they are needed as we respond to a very challenging wildfire season.”
The U.S. Forest Service successfully suppresses about 98 percent of the approximately 10,000 wildfires that occur each year on National Forest System lands.
Two of the heavy helicopters are S-61s owned by Siller Helicopters of Yuba City, Calif.; one is an S-64 Skycrane owned by Erickson Air Crane of Central Point, Ore.; and one is an S-70 owned by Firehawk Helicopters of Leesburg, Fla.
Helicopters are used primarily for dropping retardant or water during wildland fires, supporting the actions of firefighters on the ground. The additional helicopter assets will strengthen the agency’s capability to respond effectively to fire activity during the summer wildfire season.
The Forest Service can respond vigorously to wildfire with an array of assets that includes more than 15,000 USDA and Department of the Interior firefighters (about 70 percent from the Forest Service) and up to 950 engines, 14 large airtankers, eight Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, one very large (DC-10) airtanker, 300 call-when-needed helicopters, and a mix of type 1, 2, and 3 helicopters.
On June 13, the agency awarded exclusive use contracts for seven "Next Generation" airtankers. Three will be operational in 2012 and four in 2013. This is the first step in implementing the Large Airtanker Modernization Strategy, which was submitted to Congress in February and recommends 18 to 28 large airtankers.
The Forest Service uses many tools for wildland fire suppression including accelerated restoration efforts that include thinning and other fuels treatments. Restoration of National Forest System lands are critically needed to address a number of threats to the health of forest ecosystems, watersheds, and forest dependent communities.
This year, as in the past, firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move assets as necessary to be best positioned and increase initial attack capabilities. The helicopters will be available this summer for large fire support and initial attack to any location in the United States.