Mexico Trip

The first order of business for fire season 2004 was to go get the helicopter, something a little less complicated than cooking one of my wife’s gourmet dinners, and a whole lot more complicated than cooking one of my dinners (which typically consists of opening a can of chili beans). Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for the helicopter, the Bell 212 had been wintering in Mazatlan Mexico and needed to be flown to Fresno California, where it would be prepared for the 2004 fire season.
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Dancing with the Fat Girl

When I was in high school there was a girl who, although somewhat over weight, was very popular with the boys. Her name was Pat, and although I never dated her, I heard she was a wonderful dancer. It seems even though a little heavy around the waist, she was light on her feet, and made a great dancing partner.
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Combat Versus Fire Fighting

Several people have asked me lately if flying on fires is “pretty tame” after flying a helicopter in combat operations in Viet Nam. I’ve thought about it a bit, and I have to say “It’s incredibly similar!” Ever present in both is the excitement, the danger, and the adrenaline rushþ everything, I suppose, except the shooting. And if you REALLY miss the shooting, you can always amend that by flying “low and slow” over someone’s marijuana garden, and someone is bound to fire a few rounds at you just to make sure you don’t miss Viet Nam TOO much. The similarities abound, and as I’ve done both with a helicopter, I thought I’d point out a few of them.

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Fire Season 2001 Conclusion and Fire Camp!

As you well know this year has been an active and dangerous fire season. Four USFS Fire Fighters were killed in Washington and two CDF pilots killed in California. The only difference in combat helicopter flying and helicopters fighting fire is we’re not getting shot at now. We tried to hit them hard and keep them small, and for the most part that worked. We all worked hard, but no summer fire season is really complete until you’ve had the “Big Fire.”

The Big Fire started out a single tree lighting fire with less than an acre of ground fire. All the ground crews were working the hundreds of other lighting fires. None of the look outs saw the smoke and no citizens reported it, that is until it was 50 acres and moving fast.
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Lightning Bust!

Lightning Bust

I think Jimmy Dolittle said, “There is no good reason to be flying near thunderstorms in peacetime.” There could be an exception, fire fighting with a helicopter. As all of you have seen on CNN and the national news, for the past week Southern Oregon had several days of intense lightning activity. This my story of a lightning bust.

Sure we had ample warning of impending thunderstorms and lightning. The question was, “Will there be rain with the thunderstorms?” The crews, both ground and air, had been on enough fires to be proficient at fighting wild land fires. We thought we were ready. Thunder clouds started building by 2PM, the wind was picking up and from the heliport in Lake View I could see down strikes to the west. I pulled on my nomex flight suit as the first calls of smoke reports started coming from the mountain top look outs.
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A Noodle in a Wildcat’s Ass

The other day I flew a long line mission. Forest Service smoke jumpers had jumped on one of our fires and had put the fire out. Now they had to hike out six or seven miles to the nearest road. They notified us that we needed a 150 foot line to reach down in the tall trees on the side of a steep hill. They also said they had 650 pounds of equipment that needed to be slung out.

I can’t blame them for not wanting to pack this stuff out, but if they had needed to pack it out, they could have. They are tougher than woodpecker lips! Even the girl smoke jumpers look like they could kick my butt. (I’m not afraid of them… just a little nervous) By the time I arrived over the smoke jumpers I had burned my fuel load down to about 400 pounds. I was about to be reminded why long lining is often compared to putting a wet noodle in a wildcats ass!

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Water Drops

Water Drops Dropping water on a fire is nothing new. I’m sure the cave men knew how to do it, it’s just that fire fighting with a helicopter has elevated and complicated the art. Water gets expensive when picked and dropped by a helicopter. Fighting a large fire is more expensive yet.

Many helicopters can pick up more water than my helicopter can, but because I usually arrive in the very early stages of a fire, I can often stop the fire with just two or three loads. You might call my Long Ranger “the little helicopter that could.” I have a Bambie bucket which holds 140 gallons and can be adjusted down to 80 gallons. The bucket was named after Bambie, who worked at a famous firefighters bar in Boise Idaho (more on that another time).
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