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Tracking #: 12-1122
Date Submitted: 9/30/2012 1:02:00 PM
Date:  9/28/2012 Local Time:  1130 Injuries:  No Damage:  No
Location:  Pole Creek Fire State:  Oregon
Operational Control:  Forest Service (USFS) > Region 06 Pacific Northwest Region > Deschutes NF
Type: Fire, Water Drop (Helicopter Bucket) Other:
Procurement: Exclusive use contract Other:
Persons Onboard: 1 Special Use:  No Hazardous Materials:  No
Departure Point: Sisters Airport {6K5 Destination:  Pole Creek Fire
Manufacturer:  Bell Model:  205A1++

On September 28 I was flying a Bell 205A1++ helicopter performing bucket work in Division Alpha along the NE to SW edge of the Pole Creek fire. I started at around 11:00 and had 2:20 worth of fuel. I made ground contact with someone at 11:15 who was walking along the fire line: which stretched approximately 3 miles. The fire was not intense, and was mostly skunking along the underbrush with occasional torching into the numerous bug-killed trees. The winds were light and as he walked along he pointed out areas to drop water on. The dip site was very close by and I was able to make 5 minute turns to the fire. Visibility was good and the work was actually going pretty well. Each time there was a flare up, I did a drop on the spot and left a wet line around the snag and then just let it burn. Many times during the next hour I contacted my ground contact to assure where he was, the fire line was very long and as he walked toward the center of it I became a bit concerned because he was so far from the ends of the fire. As a rappel pilot, when we are doing a size up before dropping the rapellers, we always establish an escape route. My ground contact was so far from the ends that had no escape route around the ends of the fire. The fire was backing slowly into the wind and appeared that he could keep moving north as he walked west and stay away from it. In addition he could easily move into the black as it was not heavily burning. My concern was the carpet of downed bug killed trees that were inside the black, because the ones that did ignite burned very hot. Towards the end of the first hour, a fire location spot approximately one third of the way from the anchor point began to behave differently. The downed trees that had not burned were now igniting, and this heat was intense enough that it was actually torching heavily and burning the standing bug killed trees that were already in the black. So there were two fire edges, one was the skunking along the brush up to the edge of the black and the other was this second torching edge about 200 yards behind it. During this time my ground contact reached the SW edge, which was as far as he wanted to go. He had me do some spot drops on that end, but I commented that there was a section about 1/3 back that was a lot more active and he suggest I keep working on that and he started his walk back to DP 24. For the next 30 minutes I mainly concentrated in cooling this down and each time after a drop it would relight. I continued to monitor his position along the edge and by using his orange tarp I was able to know exactly where he was. Ten minutes later he told me that the winds had shifted and picked up in intensity. I had also noticed this and agreed with him. After the wind shift, the torching section became much more active and I continued to work on it. I told my ground contact that I had 30 minutes of fuel and suggested that he call up another helicopter to use buckets to cover the time while I was gone to refuel. He made this call and we discussed the time I was not going to be able to cool the fire. I continued to work on the torching section, and contacted him to let him know of the different behavior, mainly that there was the second fire line that was burning behind the first fire line, actually re-burning the black area, and with much more intensity. I think I used the term raging. I checked my fuel again and made sure that there would be a helicopter on scene to cover him as he walked out. I made two more drops into the torching area, but it was now burning with such intensity that I was not having much effect.

I then asked my ground contact where he was and was surprised to find that he was still to the west of the torching area. This surprised me since I thought he had already passed the fire to the east, where I felt he should be. I immediately contacted him and circled back to find him. He gave me a mirror flash and I and saw that he was within 500 feet of the face of the raging fire. This torching and the black column being generated was hidden from him by the smoke he was in, as well as the standing timber surrounding him. He had a spot finger to the SW, which was within 200 feet of his position, and another finger to the NE. I urged him to start moving quickly north away from the fire, which he did, and when I circled again the fire was 50 percent closer to his position. The fire was moving in waves of heat toward his position: the air between them was actually shimmering! A 200-300 yard wide wall of trees would instantly ignite, and this in turn was igniting the next row of trees in front of it. My ground contact was centered in this wall, with the fingers on either side. I felt that he was in grave danger. The fire was moving MUCH faster than he was: there was no way out to the SE or to the NW because he was in the center of a crescent between the two fingers of fire. The fire was moving to him so quickly and it was beginning to even affect the fingers behavior, which started to burn much more intensely. I was very, very concerned that he was in the center of energy. I tried to relay this concern, but he was sure that he was secure since he was in the black. I knew that the black was not going to be the help he needed. I felt that he was going to need to deploy his fire shelter and that I was going to be doing water drop on his position. I started to pull away to get water but realized that the fire would have been upon him before I was able to make a trip to the lake and back. In front of him, to the north, there was a small opening in the trees and I was able to determine that I could hover into it without damage to the helicopter. I lowered the helicopter until the bucket was on the ground. I hovered and watch the speed he was moving and the speed of the fire coming towards us. The fire was moving very quickly so I strongly suggested that he climb into the bucket so that I could haul him out. I felt that there were very few options and vigorously urged him. I honestly felt that we had only seconds or a minute before the fire was to the spot. I am sure he could feel the fire, because I could certainly feel the heat. He climbed into the bucket and wrapped his arms around the wires as I slowly lifted the bucket vertical. We were in radio contact during this time. Once I was sure he was secure in the bucket I flew to the North, perhaps 1/4 mile to an open area where I felt he could walk to safety. I carefully lowered the bucket to the ground and he got out and walked to the trail. I looked back at the spot where we had lifted out of and it was fully torched. I do not believe there were any other good options. The ground he was on was a carpet of dead bug killed trees, the fire was very intense and I`m not sure that even with a fire shelter deployed that the outcome would have been good. I am glad he had the courage to climb into the bucket and relieved that no harm has come to my ground contract. RASM Comment: In the above statement I removed the ground person`s name and put in ``My ground contact`` to remove the individual`s identity. I believe the pilot`s statement above paints a very vivid picture of what he was seeing. This incident is being reviewed as a Facilitate Learning Analyst {FLA} for the ground firefighters. It is true that there was an aviation rescue component however that rescue component was used only to save a life. I believe this will be a complex FLA. Update on 10/16/2012: The FLA is completed and will be posted on the Lessons Learned Site.
Mishap Prevention:Kudos

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