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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: More Helicopters Needed to Fight Wild Fires in U.S. West

PUBLIC SAFETY/FIRE

With more than 40 major wildfires still raging in the western United States, officials from the National Interagency Fire Center in August faced a shortage of helicopters to battle the blazes that had already consumed 830,000 acres of land.

As of early August, more than 200 rotorcraft and many fixed-wing aircraft were participating in the effort, but that was short of what coordinators would like to have.

"We need more, but they aren’t available, probably because there’s a lot of work in the oil and logging industries right now," said Kim Christensen, a manager with the center.

Based in Boise, Idaho, the center is the federal organization that coordinates fire incidents that exceed the boundaries and resources of state and local agencies.

The center hires helicopters taken from two lists of operators. The first is the "exclusive use" list, which contains aircraft under contract for a specific time period. The second is the "call-when-needed" list, with operators the center can call on a case-by-case basis, with the caveat that participation is not required.

"We only have about 60 percent of the call-when-needed helicopters we used to have," said Christensen, which is why operators who are interested should contact the National Interagency Fire Center on the web at www.fs.fed.us/fire/contracting/.

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