Firefighting chopper works out of Truckee Tahoe Airport
A Boeing 107 Sea Knight helicopter arrived at the Truckee Tahoe Airport Tuesday on a 90-day contract with the U.S. Forest Service for fighting wildland fires.
Hours after touching down, the dual rotor chopper was already in the air and on its way to fighting nearby fires on the Tahoe National Forest.
The aircraft is owned by Colombia Helicopter based in Portland, Ore., and is contracted out to the Forest Service.
After the 90 day contract the Forest Service has the option to extend the contract. Tahoe Helitack, a Forest Service crew that works out of the helicopter, provides the supervision and direction for the helicopter.
“We are excited to be here,” Mel Ceccanti, one of the aircraft’s pilots, said after arriving in Truckee on Tuesday. “It’s been long overdue to have a type 1 helicopter” in the Truckee-Tahoe area.
The 84-foot red and white helicopter has the ability to carry 1,300 gallons of water or fire retardant in a bucket suspended 200-feet below the helicopter. It collects water using a system called powerfill and only needs 12 feet of water to fill up. Most other aircraft use 250 gallons or less Ceccanti said.
“We basically do the work of four or five other aircraft,” he said.
Ceccanti said it would take no more than 20 minutes to get to any fire in the Tahoe Basin.
“It’s real quick,” Ceccanti said. “Our plan is to have our aircraft here to avoid fires like the Angora Fire.”
The mission is initial attack and keeping 95 percent of all fires to 10 acres or less because they are more manageable, Ceccanti said.
While the helicopter is stationed at Truckee Tahoe Airport, it can and will respond to fires across the country, according to Forest Service officials.
The helicopter took off Tuesday afternoon to fly to the Blue Canyon air field approximately 20 miles away to fight the American and Yuba River Complex fires.
Locally, the Forest Service already has six helicopters working on the two fire complexes out of Blue Canyon, using a mix of private contractors and military aircraft, said Staci Dickson, helicopter superintendent for the U.S. Forest Service.
“We’ve had a lot of helicopter activity but we need more and we are waiting to get some,” Dickson said. “Helicopters are in high demand right now and we are doing what we can with what we’ve got.”
Meanwhile, Joanne Roubique, the Forest Service’s Truckee District Ranger, said members of the community have been telling her they are ready to have the chopper in Truckee-Tahoe.
“It’s one more ship in the system so we are pleased to have it here,” she said. “Anything we can add is an asset to the firefighting system.”