Meet Malcolm: Firefighting helicopter in Truckee " just in case
Members of a flight crew from an international aircraft contractor landed a giant orange helicopter named “Malcolm” at the Truckee Airport last week.
The Erickson Sky-Crane Inc. crew diverted the Sikorsky S-64 Aircrane to Truckee after fighting a fire in Montana in case a late-season wildfire strikes the Tahoe area.
Looking something like a huge bug, the Sikorsky Aircrane can haul tons of firefighting gear or other heavy equipment.
“They’re positioned here because we have so many Red Flag days,” Truckee Airport General Manager David Gotschall said from the tarmac Thursday.
The U.S. Weather Service declares Red Flag Warning days when gusty winds combine with low humidity to create hazardous fire conditions.
The day Gotschall spoke was indeed a red-flag warning day for the Tahoe area. On average, the Tahoe-Truckee area has five to eight of the high-risk fire days annually. This year the National Weather Service has issued almost 20, according to fire weather forecaster Chris Jordan of the Weather Service office in Reno.
The helitanker is part of an Erickson fleet frequently contracted by the U.S. Forest Service to assist firefighting efforts across the nation. Each tanker in the Oregon-based helicopter firm’s fleet of 18 Skycranes is assigned a number.
“Two-seventeen came from Montana fighting fires near Missoula,” said Erickson Sky-Crane spokesman Dennis Hubbard. “It is up to the U.S. Forest Service to place them in strategic locations. It is sort of a contract lease: We provide the aircraft and crews; the Forest Service provides [the] supervisors.”
Originally built for use in the Vietnam War, the workhorse has been rebuilt by Erickson with 1,300 modifications, according to Hubbard. As configured for firefighting, the Skycrane has a 2,650-gallon capacity for carrying water or fire retardant,
Erickson Air-Crane holds contracts with foreign entities including the governments of Italy, Greece, Australia and Canada.
To declare a Red Flag Warning, the Weather Service’s Jordan said the forecast must call for humidity to stay below 20 percent and the winds gust over 30 mph for a minimum of three hours.
The hazardous rating also takes into consideration how dry fire fuels are in the area. Jordan said natural fuels in the Tahoe area are now completely dry.
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The Truckee Town Council has unanimously approved of a pilot program to remove snow on privately maintained paved trails in the area.