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Erickson was too costly for Blackwell

Why didn't someone hire Erickson Air-Crane to fight the fire that broke out on Blackwell Hill? It's right next to their plant and it's what they've gained international fame for doing.

— Stephen, by e-mail

It's a simple case of economics. Erickson's S-64s are the Lincoln Navigators of the helicopter world, while the Oregon Department of Forestry is able to get most jobs done with the equivalent of a Ford Explorer.

Essentially, Erickson provides more helicopter than budget-minded ODF can afford, spokesman Brian Ballou said.

"The type of helicopters Erickson runs are top-notch for many things and firefighting is just one of them," Ballou said. "However, they are very expensive.

ODF's standing agreement with Erickson calls for payment of $15,500 per hour, with a two-hour minimum, if the big orange heli-tankers are called into action.

"We prefer to contract with one size class down, or Type II, helicopters," Ballou said.

Other Type I aircraft, such as Swanson Aviation Group's K-MAX helicopters, cost $3,600 hourly, with a four-hour minimum. Croman Corp. Type I helicopters are available for about $3,600 per hour, or $4,750 if they are brought in from outside the area.

"We've found in our experience fighting fires, using Type 2 helicopters is best for us, handling most situations. They are very cost-effective and the Forestry Department tries to be a cost-effective agency," Ballou said.

Two Type IIs and a smaller Type I chopper were called into action for the Blackwell Hill fire. Airlift Helicopters, of Reno, Nev., and Columbia Basin Helicopter, of Baker City, provide the local Type II service for $2,700 an hour. The smaller aircraft cost $1,000 an hour.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.