The quick-thinking helicopter pilot working for the U.S. Forest Service may have helped save the life of a firefighter at the Pole Creek Fire last week.
According to an after-incident safety report, the firefighter narrowly escaped the flames by clinging to a water bucket strung below the aircraft.
The pilot’s account was posted on a government website used to identify and correct aviation safety issues.
The report doesn’t identify the pilot or his ground contact — who was helping direct the water drops. The pilot says he had already made a number of drops when the man on the ground ventured to the center of a very long fire line.
At that point, the fire was moving slowly.
The man figured he could either outmaneuver the flames or find safety in a nearby patch of ground that had already burned. But then the winds shifted and everything changed.
The flames picked up. And the blackened ground that was supposed to provide a way out, reignited.
Believing he had no other options, the pilot lowered his bucket, convincing the firefighter to climb inside to escape the flames.
The Forest Service says it’s now studying the incident in the hopes that what it learns might help other firefighters in the future.