A RNoAF Bell 412 SP during a earlier exercise in Stavanger (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

Norwegian Bells scramble to fight historic fire

A RNoAF Bell 412 SP during a earlier exercise in Stavanger (Image  © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A RNoAF Bell 412SP during an earlier exercise in Stavanger (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

A pair of Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) Bell 412SP tactical helicopters scrambled on Sunday 19 January 2014 to fight a hard to control fire in the historic village of Laerdalsøyri, 340 km (205 miles) northwest of their homebase of Rygge near Oslo.

The choppers from 720 Skvadron arrived at the scene at 09:40 local time, when about a hundred civilian fire-fighters were still not in full control of the flames that destroyed at least 30 buildings, took out the power grid and destroyed all 13 mobile and land line telecommunication base stations in the area.

The Norwegian Bells can carry a sling bag underneath their belly to drop large quantities of water directly on a spot. Much needed after fire-fighters from 10 different stations battled since 22:40 Saturday night to protect the historic Laerdalsøyri. The village has the biggest concentration of typical Norwegian wooden houses from the 1700s and 1800s after UNESCO World Heritage village Røros further east.

Hard wind
The fire started in a wooden house on the eastern outskirts of the village centre. A very hard wind blew flames and sparks from building to building in a westerly direction over a distance of 400 to 500 metres (430 – 550 yards), destroying 30 compounds – at least half of them people’s residences – and damaging several more.

The wind itself, the darkness of the night and the destroyed telecommunication lines made the operation very difficult. Moreover, rescue services at first concentrated on saving lives by evacuating 400 to 500 inhabitants. Four hundred people – including fire-fighters – were sent to the local hospital. Doctors ordered treatment to a hundred of them – most because of smoke poisoning. Half of the patients were admitted at least overnight in three different medical facilities in the region.

Rescue services were using so much water at times, that the local hospital was depleted of drinking water – which was subsequently flown in by helicopter from supplies in nearby villages.

Sea King
Apart from the two Bell 412SPs the RNoAF also deployed one of its vulnerable 330 Skvadron Sea King medevac helicopters from Florø. It flew in three doctors to help treat the wounded and flew out six patients to the hospital in Førde. On the ground the Norwegian national guard (Heimevarnet) deployed 44 soldiers to shield off and guard the fire stricken areas.

At the time of this writing no serial numbers of the deployed helicopters have been released. The rescue services declared the fire under control at 17:00 local time on Sunday. Experts already deem the 2014 Laerdalsøyri fire as a historic one, with the lessons learned in fire-fighting and fire-prevention will have an impact on many other wooden historic areas in Norway. The city of Bergen, for example, seems now eager to fast-track the installation of sprinkler systems in its wooden UNESCO World Heritage site.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger