Single-engine tanker assists firefighters in wildfire near Denver

Ice on the landing gear of Air Tanker 861 after dropping water on the Oak Fire, December 27, 2021. Photo by Chief Pilot Chris Doyle.

On Monday afternoon, December 27, a fire southwest of Denver burned 152 acres and caused evacuations.

The Oak fire was reported around 2 p.m. southwest of Columbine, southwest of the C470 which has been temporarily closed. West Metro Fire said it started near the C470 / Kipling intersection west of the Westerly Apartments in an open space with multiple footpaths and heavy foot traffic. The specific cause is still under investigation. The evacuations were canceled Monday evening.

Oak Fire, southwest side of Denver, December 27, 2021
Oak Fire, southwest side of Denver, December 27, 2021. Photo by West Metro Fire.

A CO Fire Aviation single-engine tanker was mobilized from Fort Morgan, Colorado, piloted by the company’s chief pilot, Chris Doyle. The Air Tractor took off at 3:46 p.m. and 20 minutes later landed at the North Colorado NCRA Regional Airport near Fort Collins to get a flat water charge, which took about 10 minutes. He then made the 19-minute flight south to the blaze where he quickly measured it, dropped the water just before sunset, and returned to the NCRA.

Air Tanker 861 (N803NZ) drops over the Oak Fire on December 27, 2021
Air Tanker 861 (N803NZ) lands on the Oak Fire on December 27, 2021. Still image from West Metro Fire video.
Air Tanker 861 Oak Fire flight path
Flight path of Air Tanker 861 (N803NZ) while working on Oak Fire on December 27, 2021. FlightAware.

The fire was caused by strong winds. Buckley Air Force Base on the east side of Denver recorded 22-28 mph from the south with gusts to 35 while relative humidity was in the high 20s with the temperature in the high 30s. However, it was cooler across town at a higher elevation near the fire, judging by the ice seen on the undercarriage in the photo above.

Firefighters always get great satisfaction from carrying out a mobile attack. The videos below show how an engine rolls near the edge of the fire as one or two firefighters fire nozzles as they walk, sometimes one in front of the engine and another picking up what is left behind the truck. Or a second motor could follow, making sure all the heat near the edge is turned off.

Oak fire, December 28, 2021
Oak Fire, December 28, 2021. Photo by West Metro Fire.

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