Erickson aircraft fight fires in Greece

It comes as no surprise to find Erickson Air-Crane S-64E Helitankers smack in the middle of the fires scorching Greece.

An Erickson spokesman confirmed Monday that four of the Central Point company's helitankers are routinely based in Greece this time of year. What isn't routine is the enormity of the dozens of fires plaguing the country in the northeast Mediterranean region, which have left more than 60 people dead and forced thousands from their homes.

Pilots, who frequently find themselves in fire zones, noted while reporting to company headquarters that this was unlike past experiences.

"One said, 'It looks like the set of 'The Day After (Tomorrow)'," company spokesman Dennis Hubbard said Monday, referring to the apocalyptic film. "Another said the devastation is such that he's never seen anything like it."

Erickson began providing fire suppression services to Greece's Ministry of Public Order in 1999. Its operating partner is Intelligent Communications Systems and Services in Athens, and Erickson works in conjunction with the state-operated Helenic Fire Brigade.

Two S-64Es are based in Andravida, on the western coast 170 miles west of Athens, and a third is in Athens. A fourth, in the northwestern city of Ioannina, is deployed on fires in the Macedonia region where Greece and Albania bump together.

"We usually have at least four helitankers there during firefighting season," Hubbard said. "Our start and stop dates fluctuate according to the Helenic Fire Brigade's appraisal of the coming fire season. If they anticipate a bad fire season, they'll call us early. They called around June and I don't think that's especially early. We're flying quite a bit, but we won't get real accurate information until things cool down."

The helitanker crews in Greece have three pilots, three or four mechanics and an interpreter who sits in the middle seat to interpret and relay radio instructions. The S-64Es are flying 12 hours a day and are capable of hoisting 20,000 pounds at sea level on standard days, based on mild temperatures.

In addition to helicopters it has sold, Erickson operates a fleet of 18 helitankers, including four in Montana; two in Los Angeles; one on a timber operation in Canada; five in Italy; and two in Malaysia on logging operations. The Erickson helicopters apparently weren't used during Italy's beach fires earlier this summer. Elvis, the skytanker that won fame for its rescue efforts in Australia during 2002, is stationed in Italy.

Separately, Erickson is in the midst of shipping the third of four helicopters sold to the Korea Forest Service and a fourth is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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