Choppers used for more than just water drops, Complex fire 35% contained


HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Calif. (KIEM)-The Red-Salmon Complex fires that have now, merged into one AND has remained at 8,024 acres and is still 35% contained.

The nearby Jones Point fire remains at 137 acres burned and is 95% contained.

When that fire broke out helicopters came out in full force to help put the fire in check, choppers play a bigger role than just water drops.  

Heli-base Manager from Nevada Lee Stewart is working Red-Salmon Fire.

“If you look over behind the Cobra you’ll see a Type 3 , he’s considered a Type 2, then, we have the type ones,” he said.

Which the public sees most often, when a wildfire breaks out Type 1’s not only drop water on fires but serve other essential tasks, some tasks more dangerous than others.

“They don’t see all the cargo that goes up, they don’t see us taking the troops up,” said Stewart.

Joe Zwierchowski is one of many public information officers working the Red-Salmon Complex Fire.

“Anytime you have (helicopters) carrying any sort of cargo beneath an airship, whether it’s water, or food and supplies, you know, that’s one of the more dangerous aspects of helicopter operations,” he said.

Which is why only the best and most skilled fly helicopters for wildfire missions, according to Zwierchowski.

 “They’ve been doing this for years,” he said. “Some of the most skilled pilots in the country love working on wildfires simply for the challenge.”  

As do crew, they may not fly the aircraft but rather ride along like Mika Mori who is a heli-rappeller for the U.S. Forest Service.

“One of the capabilities that we have is to rappel of the helicopter into kind of a more difficult location that you can’t really hike into,” she said.

And then fight the fire from there with the help of someone part of the air tactical crew like Matt Lynde, who supervises the fire traffic area.

“I kind of like to explain it to people as, its air traffic control, but in the air, over the fire,” Lynde said.

A van is equipped with advanced technology that works cohesively with the Cobra “Air Attack” helicopter.

Brandon Lewis is a Global Information Systems Technician for the Red-Salmon Complex Fire.

“Also, for this, in the wilderness where you don’t have people down here, [they can] get smoked out, they can send that (information) to planning.”