Erickson has been providing aerial firefighting solutions for more than 30 years. As such, we’ve seen the devastating impact of wildfires on individuals. With the upcoming fire season, we’re reminded daily of the risks associated with wildfires and appreciative of the support from firefighters and agencies around the globe supporting a common mission to keep their communities safe.
Recently, wildfires have hit close to home for the Erickson team, and we’ve written several stories on our blog. All these individuals were directly impacted by wildfires in the Western US, but these stories could have been anywhere in the world.
Heather Monson, an Erickson employee who manages the global supply chain and procurement, experienced wildfire firsthand at her southern Oregon home in 2020. She said the wildfire they experienced at their home was a ‘horrifying, traumatic event that was completely unexpected’. She said the day started like any other, but she had heard via Facebook that there was a wildfire called, ‘Almeda’, that had started in a nearby city. She said the day was windy, and she could smell the fire in the air, but she didn’t think much about it as she prepared to pick up her son from work.
Later that day the wildfire swept through her neighborhood. In total, 184 homes burned down in her neighborhood. “Miraculously, my home was still standing,” she said. Monson shared that the experience has been devastating because while her home didn’t burn to the ground, the damage was intense – smoke damage, electrical, plumbing, carpeting, installing a new HVAC system, new roof, and outside painting. She counts herself as lucky that the house is still there.
Another Erickson employee of 26 years, Gari Wolff, had lived in the same neighborhood for about 22 years when he experienced wildfire in 2020 – burning his home to the ground. He too experienced the Almeda fire in southern Oregon, where the fire was fast and furious with intense wind, heat, and dryness. In his case, 23 homes in his neighborhood burned down. He said he wished that the Erickson S-64 Air Crane® Helicopter had been on hand to support. He and his wife lost their home and all possessions during the fire. A year later, they are rebuilding, and simplifying their lives and new possessions.
This story came to Erickson by Tebbin Salveson, an eight-year resident of Redding California, who experienced a wildfire, and the Erickson S-64 Air Crane® helicopter, firsthand. It is also now known as one location hit hard by the Carr Fire of 2018. The fire decimated a large part of the region, in total burning almost 360 square miles. Over 1,000 homes were lost.
Salveson is retired from a role in emergency management. He knew when the fire started and decided to go toward the fire to see how serious it was. He and a friend went into the mountains to get a closer look, and capture photos and video. Little did Salveson know that the fire would soon approach his own home and neighborhood. As he made his way back home, he saw that the wildfire was spreading rapidly and was coming over the mountain range toward his home. He grabbed what he could out of the house, including their 100-pound dog, and evacuated. As he left the home, he witnessed firefighting directly overhead.
“Then the calvary came in, the S-64 Air Crane® came in to fight the fire. They were flying over my house, I could see them dipping into the Sacramento River, and dropping water on my house, and in my neighborhood,” he said. He could see the S-64 pilots, about 150 feet up, from his vantage point and marveled at their skill and commitment. His home did not burn down, although he did have fire damage.
Later, Salveson went to the local airport where the Air Crane® helicopters were standing by on-call. He wanted to thank the crews for saving his home and neighborhood. For Salvesen, it was cathartic to go visit with the crew. “The S-64 Air Crane® Helicopter is a very complex machine,” he said. “They run all of these checks and the aircraft is ready to go at any given moment,” he added. While he was there visiting with them, he said they received a call to go back out. “They were on the roll within seven minutes. It is interesting to watch their well-oiled systems. The crew, the maintenance checks, are all interesting the watch.”
Investment key to mitigate risk wildfires pose to communities worldwide
Preparedness can save both lives and property, however, it doesn’t come without a cost. It is one thing to read about why a fire agency should invest in aircraft, or to become more prepared for an increase in wildfires, whether human-caused, or naturally caused. But it is another to invest in mitigation and risk avoidance to ensure that wildfires do not directly impact thousands of lives per year worldwide. For the safety of people and their homes and families, all of us at Erickson are committing to working with our partners, customers and communities on better planning and decision-making in the coming years.