Napa County Invests Nearly $2 Million in Firefighting Helicopter

Admin Emergency Services, Helicopter Services

After watching over 200,000 acres of county land simply burn up along with 1,500 structures in 2020, the government of Napa County has plenty of good reasons to invest in its own dedicated firefighting protection.

This is exactly what the county administration is doing for 2021, in part by spending $1.86 million on a contract for private emergency helicopter services. The contract, given to Southern California-based Blue Sky Helicopters, features fire suppression services not just from any tiny helicopter, but from a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk chopper with 900-gallon tank capacity and a flight range of roughly 500 miles.

The Black Hawk will be devoted to serving the county’s firefighting needs from August 15th to November 13th of this year under a contract that initially cost $1.65 million dollars but which increased to $1.86 million after certain additional insurance and related costs.

Blue Sky Helicopters also offers firefighting services to other government clients that include Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, and the Oregon Dept. of Forestry.

Napa County decided to spend the extra money on this private fire response contract after Cal Fire, which serves the region, recently moved its retrofitted Chinook water-drop helicopter from Napa County Airport to other parts of Northern California.

As a result, understandably nervous county government officials decided that investing in locally dedicated and controlled aerial firefighting services would be prudent. Their hope is that any fires in 2021 won’t spiral out of control to the degree that occurred last year.

According to County Supervisor Ryan Gregory’s succinct justification, “I think we need to do this”. County Fire Chief Geoff Belyea also further elaborates that recent Cal Fire water drops from their helicopters rapidly damped down nascent fires in remote areas of east Napa County and points out that “They made a significant difference”.

Consequently, Napa County decided to guarantee this same level of aerial protection at all times by having Blue Sky Helicopter give them priority support.

The $1.86 million dollar contract with the aerial emergency services provider is only part of the county’s spending on fire protection. In April, Napa County also agreed to invest a further $6.4 million dollars in vegetation management programs that are supposed to remove fuel sources for wildfires in the region. Some residents of the county didn’t consider this to be enough investment and were partly responsible for the decision to also reach for Blue Sky’s contract and the Black Hawk helicopter.

Napa County received several bids for the aerial emergency firefighting request. One company, PJ Helicopters offered its services at a price of $1.66 million, while another requested a much heftier sum of $4.5 million. Blue Sky’s combination of aircraft, service, and price won out.

Napa County came under criticism for seeking preferential treatment from Cal Fire before having hired its own emergency helicopter assistance. Officials in the county government have responded by pointing out that their hired helicopter can also be used to help fight fires in neighboring counties if needed whenever protection in Napa itself isn’t immediately necessary.

Privately offered aircraft and helicopter emergency services from companies such as Blue Sky Helicopter and other professional services such as Flex Air Aviation frequently deliver their expertise and technical capabilities. They are often hired by municipal, county, and other types of government agencies throughout the United States and even overseas.

Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian