With an average rainfall of around 1097mm each year, you would be forgiven for thinking that Moorland fires do not pose a serious risk in the Peak District. In fact Moorland wildfires do occur, and are usually started deliberately as controlled fires intended to clear land. These fires can grow to around six miles long, and although precautions are taken to ensure that the fire is restrained to a pre designated area, occasionally thinks do go wrong and the fire becomes out of control. Obviously a fire of this scale has the potential to cause loss of life and massive collateral damage.
The UK is very fortunate in that it has a highly trained, brave and competent force of fire fighters who do a great job. But in the case of moorland fires, firefighters often run into problems. The primary issue is that of access, since fire crews depend on their engine to carry water and many moorland fires are simply not accessible for road vehicles, this means that fire crews have no way of getting water to the fire.
Helicopter Fire Fighting
To combat this problem a special Fire Operations Group was formed by several land owners, the local fire services and water companies, the National Trust, the Peak District National Park Authority, and Pennine Helicopters Ltd who have over twenty years experience in Aerial Fire fighting.
Aerial Fire fighting is not without it’s own dangers though. Perhaps the most serious threat is the potential for loss of engine power.
When water hits a moorland fire, it is instantly transformed into steam, this steam can potentially extinguish the helicopters engine and obstruct the pilots line of view so Aerial Fire fighting pilots need to be specially trained and experienced.
Not only is the helicopter able to access areas that fire crews cannot reach, and drop water directly onto the fire from above, the pilot can also provide fire fighters with vital information about the fire, such as which direction it is spreading in, and whether or not there are people, livestock, or hazards in the path of it’s current direction.
Deploying Ground Crews
The helicopter is able to transport fire fighting ground crews to the site of the fire in cases where the fire is well away from access roads.
Because helicopters are able to transport relatively heavy underslung loads, Aerial firefighters are also able to support fire fighters by flying in water tanks, pumps, hoses, and other fire fighting equipment. This enables fire crews to fight fires even when their engine is unable to access the site. The helicopter is also able to replenish water supplies on site periodically as needed. An underslung Kestrel bucket is used by the helicopter to drop water on the fire, and this can be refilled at natural water sources such a lakes or rivers then used to transport water back to the fire crew, topping up their reservoirs and ensuring they are able to sustain their efforts.