Fighting Portugal’s deadliest Pedrogao Grande Wildfire, the Fire Boss aspect

A series of 156 wildfires that erupted across central Portugal in June turned into an epic tragedy that, within hours, claimed the lives of 64 civilians and caused serious injuries to 204 others, including more than a dozen firefighters that were fighting the terrible firestorm. By the evening of June 20th, a total of 44,969 hectares of land in the mountain areas of Pedrogao Grande municipality, some 170 km north-east of Portugal’s capital Lisbon, were turned into burned ground.

The tragedy saw a massive response of Portugal’s National Authority for Civil Protection (ANPC) that immediately dispatched over 1,700 firefighters, 400 fire-fighting vehicles and all available fire-fighting aircraft to the affected areas. Included in the aerial fleet were at least four helicopters, six Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Bosses and two Canadairs. The assistance in manpower and aerial means also came from neighboring Spain that dispatched four CL-415 Canadairs as well as from France and Italy, each providing a pair of Canadairs. In total, over 2,000 firefighters supported by two battalions of Portugal Army soldiers and a significant number of law enforcement and civil protection personnel fought the blazes actively supported from the air by a mixed fleet of aerial fire-fighting aircraft.

Among the aerial fire-fighting assets that answered the call for help issued by Portugal’s authorities were the Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss amphibious fire-fighting planes operated in Portugal by the local, Tondela-based company Agro-Montiar. Strategically dispersed, and operating from two central Portugal municipal airports in Viseu – Goncalves Lobato and Proenca a Nova, Agro-Montiar decreased dispatch time to around 8 minutes, and a total of six Fire Boss aircraft were promptly dispatched to fight the disastrous Pedrogao Grande wildfire.

Operating under the command of Carlos Creveiro, Agro-Montiar chief of flight operations, the AT-802 Fire Boss fleet scooped water from nearby Cabril Dam Reservoir maintaining 100% fleet operational readiness in the critical period during which a total of 189 flight hours have been accumulated; out of which 140 flight hours in direct fire-fighting operations that resulted with 1,261 aerial water drops, delivering over 3,783,000 liters of water.

The statistics show that the average drop of each Fire Boss was slightly over 3,000 liters every six minutes and 40 seconds, achieving an impressive nine drops per hour that equals over 27,000 liters of water dropped by each Agro-Montiar aircraft per hour, for a cumulative total of over 162,000 liters per hour by the engaged fleet of six Fire Boss aircraft.

Having been strongly backed by the Spanish, Valencia based company Avialsa T-35 – the operator of world’s largest Air Tractor AT-802 fire-fighting fleet – the 2017 fire-fighting fleet of Agro-Montiar is composed of seven Fire Boss aircraft, one of which is used as a backup fire-bomber and as a platform for training 12 pilots flying the Fire Boss fleet in Portugal.

For smooth operations in Portugal, apart from three highly-experienced Avialsa mechanics that are constantly deployed to Agro-Montiar bases from May to October, the company also relies on Avialsa’s EASA Part 145 AT-802-specialized maintenance, repair and overhaul organization and its related logistics and spare parts supply system.

The overall efficiency of AT-802 fleet in Portugal was clearly illustrated in 2013 when Agro-Montiar was awarded with the ANPC multi-year agreement that is still in place. That year, the fleet of six Fire Boss aircraft accumulated 1,195 flight hours out of which 798 flight hours in fire-fighting operations divided among 360 fire-fighting missions that resulted in 5,141 aerial water drops equaling over 15,423,000 liters of water dropped on wildfires in Portugal.

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