Timely use of helicopters for aerial attack fire-fighting can get ahead of wildfires, preventing them spreading further out of control, protecting habitats, water sources, people & wildlife, not to mention reducing risk to ground teams. Proven methodology in the USA & Canada, is "hit it hard, hit fast", and Helitak is often one of the the first resources deployed.
The flexibility & speed of helicopters can be brought to task where conventional ground-based assets struggle to reach.
We can vary attack methods according to the scene on the ground, whether it be bulk-drop to try and quell hot-spots (typical with moorland peat fires, when the burn has penetrated underground, or burning trees), or drop along a fire-line to help prevent surface spread. (A 10 degree slope will double the advance speed of a wildfire, so the earliest possible suppression delivers exponential benefits in terms of both damage limitation & total costs).
We can also mist to help ground teams get in closer to the fire line, protecting them in what is already tough conditions.
The perceived cost of helicopter operations is typically the biggest barrier to their use in the UK - as of May 2020, work with Devon & Somerset FRS proved this not to be a valid hurdle. Even our smaller machine drops the equivalent volume of water to a standard fire appliance in just 4 drops - 1800 litres. The Hughes 500 hourly rate is less than that of 2 x standard fire appliances!
At the Kingswear woodland fire, we were timed as dropping 4 loads every 5-7 minutes, over 15,000 litres per hour on target, where ground crews were unable to gain sufficient access with hoses & pumps, let alone delivering that volume of water. Our AS350 helicopter carries twice as much.
Both aircraft are based within circa 30-40 minutes flying time of Wiltshire, Surrey, & Hampshire areas, and 1hr 40 mins to the Peak District.
This video is a short compilation of footage from various
parties during the Kingswear, Devon, woodland fire:
Saddleworth Moor Wildfires - June 2018
We were also a primary responder to support the emergency services fight the wildfires on Saddleworth Moor in June 2018. For 2 days that week, we were the only aerial asset available to landowners and Fire & Rescue teams to help prevent further spread of this terrible incident.
The videos below show the fire-front upon our arrival on scene on the first full morning, a front that stretched nearly 3km at that time, and our water pick-up from Chew Reservoir:
Based at the Chew Reservoir, we were able to assist the ground teams with preventing the fire spreading further east, into a large area of restored moorland.
We were also able to provide aerial suppression of the many "hot-spots" where the fire had penetrated down in to the peat substrate, where it would otherwise continue to burn hot, often able to reignite within hours, or overnight, if left unattended.
The link below was taken on behalf of Sky News and shows the extent of the challenges faced by all teams involved:
Our own compilation from some behind-the-scenes footage: