USA — Aerial firefighters have expressed their condolences to the families of the 19 members of an elite firefighting team which perished on Sunday, June 30, while battling a major wildland fire in Arizona.
“The men and women of the nation’s aerial firefighting industry want to express their deepest sympathy to the families and friends of those who lost their lives combating one of the most destructive fires in US history,” said Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) in Washington. “Our members, who operate fixed wing tankers and helicopters in conjunction with ground-based fire combatants, understand the high risk business of wildland firefighting. Our thoughts and prayers are their loved ones at this sad time.”
The Yarnell Hill fire, in which the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting team died, has destroyed over 2,000 acres, and 200 structures to date. Larry Kelley, Manager, West Coast Operations for Construction Helicopters in Boise, Idaho, reported that at the time of the incident, the company had a Bell 212 helicopter working on a nearby fire.
“Although they were not on the same fire, our helicopter crew did experience the same radical wind shift, and the thunderstorm that trapped the Hot Shot crew,” Kelley stated. “Our condolences go out to the families and loved ones of the fire fighters whose lives were lost during this tragic event.”
The thunderstorms and erratic high wind activity, noted by Construction Helicopters, also kept Neptune Aviation Service’s three P2V Neptune airtankers on the ground at Prescott, Arizona, from which they were flying on the Yarnell fire, according to Ron Hooper, CEO of the Missoula, Montana-based company. “Of course, all of us at Neptune expresse our sympathy and condolences to the families of the lost firefighters,” he said. Hooper also reported that one of the operator’s modern BAe 146 tankers was just repositioned from Santa Monica, California, to Phoenix Gateway Airport for deployment on the Yarnell Fire as its primary target, along with several other fires west of Prescott.
Todd Petersen, Vice-President, Marketing for Columbia Helicopters in Portland, stated that one of the company’s Chinook twin rotor helicopters just completed a firefighting mission in Arizona.
“As CHI has been an active participant in helicopter firefighting programs for decades, all of us here at Columbia Helicopters are deeply saddened by this terrible incident. Our thoughts and prayers go to the families and friends of all those who lost their lives in this tragedy.” Columbia Helicopters, Construction Helicopters, and Neptune Aviation Services are members of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association representing the commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.