A Bombardier CL-415 SuperCooper of the French Sécurité Civile in 2006 (Image (CC) Gerard Joyon)

Italian & French “water bombers” scramble to Sweden

A Bombardier CL-415 SuperCooper of the French Sécurité Civile in 2006 (Image (CC) Gerard Joyon)
One of two Bombardier CL-415 SuperCoopers of the French Sécurité Civile in 2006. This machine was deployed to Sweden in August 2014. (Image (CC) Gerard Joyon)

LATEST UPDATE 13 AUGUST 2014 | The three French and two Italian aircraft that joined up to 17 helicopters on Wednesday 6 August in fighting the largest forest fire of Sweden in 40 years are leaving. The preliminary departure date is set for Monday 11 August. After several days of intense “water bombing” the Swedish rescue and firefighting authorities feel that what is left of the fire can be best fought on the ground, possible assisted by Swedish helicopters only. Like the Protezione Civile and Sécurité Civile crews, Norwegian helicopter crews have been thanked for their work as well.

On Monday 11 August the air assets will be reduced to two or three Swedish Armed Forces AS332 Super Pumas (HKP10s), eight smaller civilian helicopters and two Swedish Armed Forces UH-60M Black Hawks (HKP16s). Their focus will be mainly transporting firefighters/military personnel to various areas in the 32,000 acres (13,000 hectares) or 6 by 9 miles (10 by 15 km) area affected by the wildfire, to put out the flames on different locations from the ground mainly.

Three of the four CL-415s deployed to Västmanland in Sweden scoop up water in Granfjärden in lake Mälaren on 6 August 2014 (Image © Kustbevakningen)
Three of the four CL-415s deployed to Västmanland in Sweden scoop up water in Granfjärden in lake Mälaren on 6 August 2014 (Image © Kustbevakningen)
“We are talking about puting out th fire per metre, about 50 kilometres in total”, reads a statement from the provincial authorities. “A third of that area is well situated, but other areas are more difficult to reach. The weather is helping, since rain is predicted over entire area effected by the wildfire. The winds are changing, without causing much worry.”

All CL-415s were in the area since 10:30 on 6 August, but low-visibility was preventing the fire-fighting flights until 17:00. Since 7 August all air assets could deploy fully, with even some luck in weather conditions for the firefighters on 8 and 9 August.

The Italian disaster response authority Protezione Civile has scrambled two of its fire-fighting aircraft, believed to be a pair of its 19 Bombardier CL-415s, to Sweden, upon a special request of Sweden through the European Union’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) on 3 August at 22:50. However, the planes – ready to go on 4 August – stayed on the ground in Italy a long time due to bad weather blocking the route over the Alps.

The Italian CL-415s left Trieste on 5 August at 13:00 local time, landed at Copenhagen IAP (Kastrup) around 22:00 on Tuesday night and arrived at Västerås (Hässlö) around 10:30 on 6 August.

The Bombardier 415 SuperScooper (Image © Bombardier)
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Sécurité Civile
The Swedes also were offered help from the French. Two CL-415s of the Sécurité Civile landed around 20:30 at Västerås airport around 20:30 on 5 August 2014. They are accompanied by a Beechcraft 200 King Air of the same emergency response authority that can be used for surveillance, aerial command and logistics. The French have a dozen CL-415s.

Daily missions
All planes were to start fire-fighting operations on Wednesday morning, but a cold front with low clouds and smoke from the fire on Wednesday kept the planes at Västerås Airport up till 17:00 due to low-visibility of about 650 to 1600 feet (200 to 500 metres) in the fire stricken area. The work by the up to 17 helicopters was somewhat hampered as well. The French Beechcraft King Air made a recon flight just after 16:00 local time, with the authorities giving the green light for the CL-415s to get airborne around 17:00. They concluded their daily mission at around 20:00, like we at Airheadsfly.com predicted, due to the falling darkness. Some Swedish media report the planes were able to drop almost 185,000 gal (700,000 litres) of water, but we could not get this information confirmed at this time. If the number is correct it means that each of the four CL-415s were able to make 29 to 30 fully loaded runs. The first flights of 7 August went airborne around 06:30, with a total of 10 to 14 flight hours per day per aircraft planned with flight crew changes during the day. According to Swedish authorities it will be the first time the large fixed-wing “water bombers” will be deployed in the biggest Scandinavian nation.

Biggest fire
All planes are needed to stop what is already called the biggest forest fire of Sweden in 40 years. The area of concern grew from about 24,700 acres (10,000 hectares) or roughly 6 by 6 miles (10 by 10 kilometres) on 4 August to more than 32,000 acres (13,000 hectares) or 6 by 9 miles (10 by 15 km) on 5 August. On 9 August at around 20:00 the area effected by the fire was roughly unchanged (still 150 km2 and an even larger area cordoned off), but less strong winds than predicted gave the firefighters a sort of brake. Meaning: anticipated spreading didn’t take place.

The northern two thirds of the area affected by the 2014 Wildfire of Sweden have been designated for "water bombing" by the four CL-415s. Water is scooped up at nearby lakes visible on this map and at lake Mälaren further south. (Image © Länsstyrelsen Västmanland)
The northern two thirds of the area affected by the 2014 Wildfire of Sweden have been designated for “water bombing” by the four CL-415s. Water is scooped up at nearby lakes visible on this map and at lake Mälaren further south. (Image © Länsstyrelsen Västmanland)

Scoop up
The Bombardier aircraft can scoop up to 1,620 gal (6,140 litres) of water at a time, but need a 1,350 feet (410 metres) long run at 70 knots (130 kmh) of water surface in order to due so. Apart from those 12 seconds at the water, the aircraft need a safe descend and climb to the lake. During shorter runs the aircraft can still scoop up several hundreds of gals (thousands of litres) that will by far still outmatch the much smaller “bags” that helicopters use which only hold 132 to 475 gals (500 to 1,800 litres).

Lakes
The regional authorities of Västmanland together with the nation-wide MSB decided to have the CL-415s use lake Åmanningen west of the fire zone anyway, where the CL-415s might have a landing surface of 1.5 to 2.4 miles (2.4 to 3.8 km) at best. Åmanningen has been blocked for boat traffic, as well as the lakes of Hörendesjön, Virsbosjön, Fläcksjön, Långsjön and Snyten. Lake Norra Barken near Smedjebacken, with up to 3.5 miles (5.6 km) of landing surface depending on the wind conditions, could be an alternative, but so far is not included in the plans.

Tuesday evening the big lake Mälaren was designated to “water up” in an “water air strip” about 7 miles (11 km) southeast of Västerås Airport. This Granfjärden area in Mälaren is still a reserve location.

Sparks
The fire started raging on Thursday 31 July, 13 miles (13 km) southwest of the town of Sala around the small lake Öjesjön. The area concerned runs from the settlement of Seglingsberg north or Ramnäs to Ängelsberg, from there eastwards along road 256 to Västerfärnebo and from there roughly in a straight line south. According to a statement by a spokesperson of the the Västmanland regional police on Tuesday afternoon 5 August the start of the fire was likely caused by “sparks from a machine used in some kind of ground work in the forest”.

A Swedish Armed Forces HKP10 (Aérospatiale Puma) dropping water on the 2014 Sala forest fire. Image taken by a Swedish Coast Guard Dash 8 Q300 released on 4 August 2014 (Image © Kustbevakningen)
A Swedish Armed Forces HKP10 (Aérospatiale Puma) dropping water on the 2014 Sala forest fire. Image, released on 4 August 2014, taken by a Swedish Coast Guard Dash-8 Q300 (Image © Kustbevakningen)

Helicopters
Ten civilian and 5 military helicopters are engaged in the fire-fighting operations. Amongst them three of Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten; FVM) Helicopter Command’s HKP10s (Super Pumas) that use the Bambi Buckets attached to the belly, and one Sikorsky HKP16 (UH-60M) Black Hawk as flying command post and evacuation asset. A second HKP10 was added on Tuesday 5 August. Sweden has no fixed-wing fire-fighting capacity.

Frontal view of the Bombardier 415 (Image © Bombardier)
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On the ground up 60 firefighters, 30 military personnel of the regional National Guard (Hemvärnet) and 100 volunteers were engaged on Monday 4 August. Due to risk to the volunteers – 9 of them were hoisted out by helicopter on Monday when they got surrounded by the flames, the tactics were changed. On Tuesday 5 August 110 people were actively engaged in combating the flames, while 30 more were creating firewalls and providing fire fighters with food, another 50 support the helicopter operations. At the end of the day about 350 people were involved. During 8 August 150 firefighters and 100 military personnel were engaged in combating the flames. More military personnel is coming in all the way from Luleå-Kallax Airbase (F21), including an additional four firetrucks and other materiel, in the north of the country.

Coast Guard
The area struck by fire – approximately 60 miles (97 km) northwest of Stockholm Arlanda IAP – has been divided into three sectors, with the Swedish Coast Guard (Kustbevakningen) providing one of its Dash-8 Q300 surveillance aircraft based at Skavsta Airport near Stockholm/Nyköping to get an overview of the extend of the fire by using its infrared and video imaging cameras.

Evacuation
On Tuesday 5 August rescue services reported a 30 year old man was found dead in the disaster area, with the cause of death likely the fire. Several homes have gone up in smoke, but the rescue services have no clear overview of that yet. On Monday afternoon 4 August the 80 inhabitants of the Gammelby neighbourhood of Virsbo – west of the fire – were evacuated as flames started to threaten their houses. Around 18:00 local time the rescue services ordered the evacuation of Ängelsberg (140 inhabitants) and the smaller settlements of Västervåla, Sörhörende, Stenbroviken and Hörnsjöfors. In total about 1,000 people have been displaced, with the evacuations concluded around 20:00 hours local time. Slightly northwest of Ängelsberg is Engelsbergs Bruk, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was the most modern iron works of 1681. The 80 villagers of Gammelby were allowed to return to their homes on 6 August, but were requested to stand-by for a re-evacuation.

Sweden was the first export customer for the UH-60M Black Hawk. Seen here in June 2012 during a tactical assault demonstration at F3 Linköping-Malmen AB (Image © Marcel Burger)
Sweden was the first export customer for the UH-60M Black Hawk. Two of the type have been deployed to the 2014 Forest Firefighting to provide aerial recon, logistics and aerial command (Image © Marcel Burger)

Since Monday evening rescue services have made plans for the possible evacuation of the entire municipality of Norberg: 4,500 people including 600 in the village centre. Together with smaller settlements the total number of people that might have to move in a second wave of evacuations can run up to more than 5,000. On 6 August those evacuation plans were put on hold due to slightly better conditions for the fire-fighters.

Due to changing winds black smoke has reached the northern parts of Västerås on 5 August 2014, with about 100,000 inhabitants population-wise the fifth largest city of Sweden. Smoke is hampering fire-fighting efforts by the 14 to 17 helicopters deployed. The core of the smoke cloud has covered a distance of more than 100 miles (165 km), reaching all the way from Västerås to Rättvik at lake Siljan north of the fire. The burning smell from the forest fire even reached Uppsala, Sweden’s fourth largest city (150,000 inhabitants) on 6 August – about 50 miles (80 km) east of the burning zone.

Swedish Coast Guard Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 during flight tests near Toronto in April 2008 (Image © Kustbevakningen)
Swedish Coast Guard Bombardier Dash 8 Q300 during flight tests near Toronto in April 2008
(Image © Kustbevakningen)

Summer high
The area around Öjesjön has only a few roads, making it difficult for ground based personnel to reach the hazard. With temperatures on Monday souring to a summer high of more than 33 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit), a dry air and nature areas screaming for rain the conditions have been excellent for the fire to spread.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger, including source information of Länsstyrelsen Västmanland, Västerås Kommun, Sala Kommun, Surahammar Kommun, Försvarsmakten, Ministère de l’Interieur, Bombardier, Kustbevakningen, Polisen Västmanland, Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap

Overview of Air Assets deployed 2014 Forest Fire Salu / Surahammar in Sweden: 22-24
(As of 6 August 2014)

  • 1 Eurocopter AS 350 B2 Ecureuil (SE-JPG), HeliAir Sweden, fire-fighting
  • 1 Eurocopter AS 350 B3 Ecureuil (SE-HJV), Stockholms Helikoptertjänst, fire-fighting
  • 1 Eurocopter AS 350 B3e Ecureuil (SE-JOR), Scandinavian Helicopter Group, fire-fighting
  • 1 Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama (SE-JNA), Stockholms Helikoptertjänst, fire-fighting
  • 1 Bell 412 (with Skogbrann marking), Helitrans (Norge), fire-fighting
  • 1 Bell 206L-1 Long Ranger II (SE-HPM), HeliAir Sweden
  • 1 Hughes 369D (SE-JPE), HeliAir Sweden, fire-fighting
  • 3 to 6 other civilian helicopters, including 2 from Norway, fire-fighting
  • 4 Aérospatiale AS332M1 Super Puma / HKP10 (green/orange no. 90 & no. 92, grey (HKP10B) no. XX, one chopper unidentified), Swedish Armed Forces, fire-fighting and transport
  • 2 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk / HKP16 (no. 08, no. XX), Swedish Armed Forces, command & evacuation & support & transport
  • 1 Agusta A109 / HKP15 (green, no. 22), Swedish Armed Forces, logistic support
  • 2 Bombardier 415 (CL-415) SuperScooper (F-ZBFS/no. 32 in special 50 years markings and F-ZBFV/no. 37), French Sécurité Civil, “water bomber”
  • 1 Beechcraft 200 King Air (F-ZBFK), French Sécurité Civil, command & reconnaissance & support
  • 2 Bombardier 415 (CL-415) SuperScooper (I-DPCQ/no. 12 & I-DPCV/no. 15), Italian Protezione Civile, “water bomber”
  • 1 Bombardier Dash-8 Q300 (no. 501), Swedish Coast Guard, reconnaissance
The Salu / Saluhammar forest fire taken from the village of Ramnäs (Image © Lt Marcus Åhlén / Combat Camera / Försvarsmakten)
The Salu / Saluhammar forest fire, with several Swedish Armed Forces helicopters and ground personnel involved in the fighting of it, taken from the village of Ramnäs on 4 August 2014 (Image © Lt Marcus Åhlén / Combat Camera / Försvarsmakten)
One of the air assets deployed to the 2014 Forest Fire in Central Sweden is this Swedish Armed Forces AS332 Super Puma no. 90, called HKP10 in Swedish service (Image © Marcel Burger)
One of the air assets deployed to the 2014 Forest Fire in Central Sweden is this Swedish Armed Forces AS332 Super Puma, called HKP10 in Swedish service (Image © Marcel Burger)
A CL-415 amphibious fire-fighting aircraft in action (Image © Bombardier)
A CL-415 amphibious fire-fighting aircraft in action, archive photo (Image © Bombardier)