Life at a lookout tower

The Helena Independent Record has an interesting story about life at an isolated lookout tower accessible only by hiking trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. When you go to the site, in addition to the article, it opens a video filmed at the tower. Here is an excerpt from the well-written article.

“When I first started up here, the drifts would last until the 15th or 20th of July,” she said, pointing to Sugarloaf Mountain, a dinosaur-looking peak cleaving the near horizon. “Last year, there was no snow at all up here by the Fourth of July. But this year, when I opened the lookout on July 3, it was the most snow I’d ever seen – more snow than when I’d come up here in June.”

The snow was so deep that when Chapman opened the lookout in early July, she had to dig a path for the pack train to get supplies to the summit. She dug four feet down and eight feet wide to make room for horses and mules.

Early this morning the mules returned, led by Tim Love with Mills Wilderness Adventures. We passed his pack train 2,000 feet up the trail as it headed down the mountain. The team was returning from a supply run, stocking Chapman’s lookout with enough food, water and wood to last 14 days.

Chapman stacked the wood below the porch. She placed the yams, avocados and bananas on the tables. The canned goods she stacked in the cabinet and the baking supplies – the shortening, flour, corn meal and salt – she placed on the shelf.

Information about the Carson S-61 helicopters

One of Carson Helicopters S-61s was involved in the fatal crash on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The company has 12 firefighting helicopters, all of which were working on fires in Oregon and California, and 7 other helicopters. Here is some information gathered from the Carson Helicopters web site about the Sikorsky S-61.

Carson’s S-61 FIRE KING is the “perfect” firefighting machine capable of rapidly and accurately delivering a thousand gallons of water per drop. That, coupled with the ability to transport personnel and cargo internally at great speeds and range directly to the fire line, makes the FIRE KING the most versatile fire suppression tool available to Firefighting Agencies today.

Aircraft Performance

* 22,000 lb Max Gross Weight
* 11,000 lb External Load
* 14,000 ft Service Ceiling – 12,000 ft Take Off & Landing
* 131 Knot Cruise Speed
* 450 Nautical Mile Range
* 3.5 Hour Endurance with 30 Minute Reserve


* Composite Main Rotor Blades
* 15 Passenger Interior
* Fire King 1,000 Gallon Fixed Belly Tank
* Goodrich Hoist (600 lb)
* Stokes Litter
* Rescue Basket
* Rescue Strop
* Rappel Anchor
* Rope Assisted Deployment Anchor (R.A.D.)
* 11,000 lb Cargo Hook
* 63″ Sliding Cargo Door
* 900 Gallon Variable Flow Water Bucket
* 150′, 100′ & 50′ Synthetic Long Line


* Garmin 530 Moving Map
* Automated Flight Following
* Traffic Collision Avoidance Detection (TCAD)
* Storm Scope
* Radar altimeter
* Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)
* 2 – VHF Radios
* 2 – P25 Compliant Radios
* External Public Address System with Siren
* Cabin ICS with transmit Capability
* Remote GPS Receiver Antenna


Carson Helicopters is a leader in heavy helicopter wildland fire suppression. Since 1991 Carson has flown thousands of incident free hours with a 100% availability and 100% on time arrival.

Here is a 37-second video of a Carson S-61 doing a demonstration water drop in Western Australia.

UPDATE @ 10:26 August 7

From the LA Times:

In April, the FAA issued an “airworthiness directive” regarding Sikorsky S-model helicopters after one developed fatigue failures in the main rotor shaft. Carson Helicopters was among the companies alerted to the problem.

The FAA also outlined a list of actions to “prevent structural failure, loss of power to the main rotor, and subsequent loss of control of the helicopter.” Carson filed comments in May, saying it had been six months since the company had ordered some of the relevant parts from Sikorsky and they were expected to arrive this month.

Update on helicopter crash; 9 presumed dead and 4 injured

Further information released by the U.S. Forest Service and the FAA reveals that in addition to the 4 injured reported earlier, 9 additional firefighters that were on the helicopter are missing and presumed dead. This is a very sad day and our thoughts are with the families and coworkers of those involved.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

(08-06) 16:23 PDT REDDING – — In what might be one of the deadliest firefighting incidents in U.S. history, nine firefighters are presumed dead and four were seriously injured after their helicopter went down Tuesday night after battling a blaze in remote Trinity County, northwest of Redding, authorities said today.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration both dispatched teams to the crash site in a remote, wooded area near Junction City, about 215 miles northwest of Sacramento.

The U.S. Forest Service said that one individual was confirmed dead and eight are unaccounted for. It was unclear whether those unaccounted for had simply not yet been identified. The Federal Aviation Administration indicated there were 13 people on board the aircraft and told a fire service that there were nine fatalities.

Cynthia Sage, with the U.S. Forest Service, said the accident happened about 7:45 p.m. as the helicopter was ferrying firefighters back to a staging area after they had been working on the Trinity fire.

She said medical evacuation personnel responded to the scene, but they could not get the people with injuries out until around 9:30 p.m. because the crash was in a very remote location.

“We would like to ask the public to keep their thoughts and prayers for the fire personnel involved and the families,” Sage said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the Sikorsky S-61 chopper was destroyed by fire after crashing “under unknown circumstances” in a remote mountain location. The nine were presumably killed in the fire that destroyed the helicopter, Gregor said.

The aircraft had a crew of two, both employees of Carson Helicopters of Grants Pass, Ore., and was carrying 11 firefighters. The pilot is among the injured and the co-pilot is listed as missing and presumed dead.

The four injured firefighters were transported to Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Air National Guard spokeswoman Capt. Alyson M. Teeter said.

Mercy Medical Center spokesman Michael Burke said three of the firefighters have been transferred to UC-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, two in critical condition and one in serious condition. One of the firefighters remains at Mercy in serious condition, Burke said.

The Buckhorn Fire the crew had been fighting is 25 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It’s burned 17,755 acres. It’s one of several fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest caused by lightning strikes. All told fires that have been raging since June 21 have consumed more than 86,000 acres of grass, brush and trees.

The firefighters worked for a private contracting company, Greyback Forestry, headquartered in Merlin, Ore. No one from Greyback was available for comment. Greyback lost four firefighters in 2002 when the van they were in overturned on its way to fight a fire in Colorado.

Tuesday’s crash was the worst involving firefighting aircraft in history, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. In 1972, seven firefighters perished in a crash in the Los Padres National Forest.

“I’ve flown a lot of helicopters and they’ve all been really safe,” said Ken Palmrose, spokesman for the fire center. “Fatalities involving aircraft are rare.”

The deadliest firefighting incident was the attack on the World Trade Centers on Sept. 11, when 340 firefighters lost their lives. According to the National Fire Protection Association, other deadly accidents include a 1994 incident in which 14 firefighters died while battling a wildfire in Glenwood Springs, Colo. In 1984, 10 firefighters were killed in an oil refinery fire in Romeoville, Ill.

Between 1990 and 2006, California had the highest number of wildland firefighter deaths in the nation – 64, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Colorado was second at 25, followed by Texas with 19. Prior to Wednesday’s crash, the next deadliest incident in California was the October 2006 Esperanza Fire that killed five federal firefighters.

Bob Madden, spokesman for the Carson Helicopters, the company that owns the downed aircraft, said the pilot and co-pilot work for Carson Helicopters, he said, and they were transporting 11 firefighters at the time of the crash.

Madden said preliminary indications suggested that neither weather nor visibility should have played a role in the crash.

He said the company has 12 helicopters working in firefighting capacities around the country. The company uses a military-style Sikorsky S61 heavy helicopter, which is outfitted to carry water or fire-retardant chemicals to drop on a fire, and also to act as transportation for people and supplies. But the aircraft can only perform one of those missions at a time, Madden said. The helicopter can carry up to 15 passengers.

A Sikorsky S-61A owned and operated by Carson Helicopters crashed and burst into flames during a logging operation in Tennessee in March 2003, killing the 56-year-old pilot and seriously injuring the co-pilot, NTSB records show. Investigators blamed the crash on the malfunction of a component that was overdue for repair, and on the pilot flying too low to avert the crisis.

Madden said this was the first time one of the company’s helicopters have crashed while working a wildland fire.

Additional information from MSNBC:

Firefighters who were waiting to be picked up helped rescue the injured after the helicopter crashed around 7:45 p.m. and caught fire, Rabuck said. About three dozen firefighters had to spend the night on the mountain because it became too dark for other helicopters to land, she said.

One report said the crash happened about 100 feet from a helispot.


From the Redding Searchlight:

The three contract firefighters injured in Tuesday night’s helicopter crash in Trinity County have been identified by their company.


Eight firefighters and one helicopter crew member are missing and believed dead, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.

The injured, all Grayback Forestry Inc. employees, are Jonathan Frohreich, 18; Rick Schoeder, 42; and Michael Brown, 20, company spokeswoman Leslie Habetier said this afternoon. They are believed to be from Medford, Ore. Grayback is located in Merlin, Ore.

Frohreich is in critical condition at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Brown is in serious condition at Davis, and Schoeder is in serious condition at Mercy Medical Center in Redding.

The helicopter pilot who was injured and taken to UC Davis has not been identified.

KGO-TV in San Francisco reports that the pilot’s name is William Coultas, information that previously was not available. He is in critical condition in the burn unit at the U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Three of the four firefighters that survived a helicopter crash in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, were taken to the U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.


One firefighter’s condition has been upgraded from serious to fare condition. Three of the four survivors are at the U.C. Davis Medical Center.

William Coultas, the pilot of the helicopter, is in critical condition in the burn unit. Jonathan Frohreich, a contract firefighter is also in critical condition. Michael Brown is also a contract firefighter, was in critical condition, but has now been upgraded to fair condition.

HERE is a link to a video report about the incident by NBC news.


HERE is a link to news releases by the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. If you click on the “Audio Link” at the site it will download and play an .mp3 recording of the Forest Supervisor’s news conference about the incident.

Helicopter crashes, 4 firefighters injured in California

This occurred on the Buckhorn fire, one of the fires in the Iron Complex in Trinity County late on Tuesday, August 5, 2008. The first report of the accident came in at 7:45 p.m. The information was provided by a spokesperson from the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

JUNCTION CITY, Calif. — Four firefighters were seriously injured when their helicopter went down while transporting crew members from a wildfire in Northern California.

Two of the firefighters were in critical condition at the University of California Medical Center in Sacramento, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mike Odle said today. The other two were in serious condition at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, he said.

They were injured when their Sikorsky S-61 helicopter crashed Tuesday night near its landing spot, about 15 miles northwest of Junction City, west of Redding, officials said.

The helicopter was transporting firefighters from the north end of a more than 27-square-mile fire burning in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, part of a larger complex of blazes that total 135 square miles.

Odle said he did not immediately know if any others were aboard the helicopter. A crash investigation team was heading to the site Wednesday.

(from the Tahoe Daily Tribune



Gunbarrel fire- more information about burned lodge

More information is available from the Billings Gazette about the “lodge” that was destroyed in the fire on Sunday.

Representatives for the Shoshone National Forest confirmed Tuesday after inquiries Monday from The Gazette that the historic Sweetwater Lodge (and 6 other structures in the complex) had burned Sunday, but said aerial spotters had been unable to verify its status until later.

The defunct lodge near Sweetwater Creek and six accompanying buildings, all abandoned, were about 3 1/2 miles north of the North Fork Highway, northwest of the Wapiti Campground.

The lodge had reverted to the Forest Service after a lawsuit over access won by the prior owner.

The road leading to the lodge and its surrounding buildings had long been closed to vehicles, and the property had not been used as a guest lodge for several years.

Susan Douglas, a spokeswoman for the Shoshone National Forest, said fire managers had decided that protecting the lodge using firefighters, sprinklers and other ground-based defensive measures would have been too dangerous.

The fire has now burned 32,590 acres. Today winds are expected to push it down drainages towards the highway on the south side of the fire. Assigned to the fire are 6 twenty-person hot shot crews, 3 heavy helicopters, 3 medium helicopters, 2 light helicopters, 16 engines, and approximately 322 personnel.

"Aerial admission" (?) on the LeHardy fire

It appears there has been a failure to communicate on the LeHardy fire in Yellowstone National Park. Chris Merrill, a reporter for the Jackson Hole Wyoming Star-Tribune, must have mis-heard park spokeswoman Sandra Hare when she was describing a helicopter burnout operation:

The helicopter crews have helped transport heavy equipment, they’ve made bucket drops of water, and Monday they performed what’s called an “aerial admission,” where they dropped little incendiary balls — which look like ping pong balls — that help steer the fire one direction or another, she said.

“The small incendiaries explode after they’re dropped from the helicopters and they create heat, which attracts the fire and pulls it toward the ‘drop’ area,” Hare said.

We are fairly sure that Ms. Hare tried to explain to the reporter that the helicopter was performing aerial ignition. I’m not certain what aerial admission is, unless it’s the use of smokejumpers.

The fire, north of Yellowstone Lake and Fishing Bridge, has burned 8,500 acres and is 5% contained.