Image from National Night Air Operations presentation, 2018, USFS.
What guidelines are in place?
The investigation into the fatal crash of the Single Engine Air Tanker, that occurred in Colorado 1 hour and 49 minutes after sunset on November 16, will include an evaluation of the guidelines that had been established for night-flying operations. Approximately 90 percent of the Kruger Rock Fire was on the Roosevelt National Forest; the rest was on land where the responsibility for suppression was with the Sheriff of Larimer County. The day after the crash the Sheriff’s office said that as of 7 a.m. that day the fire was being managed by a unified command with the US Forest Service and the Sheriff.
Judging from the fire perimeter and the very strong westerly winds it appears likely that the fire started just outside or very close to the National Forest boundary and then spread into the Forest — which is tinted green in the map below.
Map of the Krueger Rock Fire, Nov. 17, 2021. Green indicates National Forest. Fire perimeter created by Colorado’s Multi-Mission aircraft and crew.
After suspending their use of night-flying helicopters at night for about 40 years after a mid-air collision, the US Forest Service restored the program in 2013, making one helicopter available at night. Several other agencies in Southern California have long-standing night-flying programs.
FIRESCOPE is an organization of local fire departments, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and federal fire agencies. In 2018 they published “FIRESCOPE Fire Suppression Night Flying Guidelines”, ICS 800. The 28-page document “provides guidelines for the use of interagency aircraft for both night initial and extended attack operations on emergency incidents to enhance safety, operational effectiveness, and fiscal prudence.”
After operational trials, the state of Victoria in Australia first placed a crew on shift for helicopter night firefighting operations on December 7, 2018. Within two weeks they had two night-flying firebombing helicopters on active contracts (Sikorsky S61N and a Bell 412), each with a supervising helicopter (Sikorsky S76B and AS355 F2, respectively). An update on their program at the time described some of the procedures and guidelines, including their “crawl, walk, run philosophy” as the project was unfolding.
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