A small forest fire that started on the plateaus of Skopje overlooking Skopska Crna Gora mountain (the Black Mountain of Skopje) on 1 April 2017 developed into a serious wildfire over the following 24 hours and caused a state of emergency requiring aerial firefighting assistance to 120-strong ground forces that were unsuccessfully fighting the wind-supported blaze that destroyed over 500 hectares a forest.

 

The unit relies on five experienced and highly skilled pilots that are regularly passing proficiency checks in an EASA Approved Training Organization (ATO) that is part of Air Tractor Europe AT-802-related sales, training and logistical systems established in Spain. The last training session was in late 2016 where checks were supplemented with flight hours in an FTD Level II flight simulator for simulating firefighting scenarios and various in-flight emergencies with a level of accuracy as described in JAR-STD-3A for flight training devices.

 

The much needed assistance has been finally provided on 3 April 2017 by two Air Tractor AT-802A Fire Boss water-bombers from the Macedonia Protection and Rescue Directorate, a government subordinated institution specialized and equipped for disaster relief operations. Placed into action before noon on 3 April 2017, the two Fire Bosses operated from the Skopje Alexander the Great International airport and jointly executed 26 firefighting flights during which each aircraft dropped 3,100-liter (800-gallon) loads of water over the mountainous wildfire that was 17 km away from the airport.

By doing so, the two planes dispersed a total of 80,600 liters (21,300 gallons) of water over the Bulachani wildfire scene that was effectively extinguished in less than four hours at an expense of a little over 6,500 liters (1,700 gallons) of Jet-A fuel consumed by the Fire Bosses’ PT6A-67AG engines.

Despite the fact that the Air Tractor AT-802A Fire Boss is a floats-equipped amphibious aircraft capable for scooping water from water surfaces like rivers, lakes and open seas, in this particular case and due to the lack of suitable water scooping areas around Skopje and also because of the vicinity of the wildfire to Skopje Alexander the Great International airport, a decision was made for the aircraft to be filled with water on the ground with 2,000 liters/minute (525 gallons) high-capacity water pumps.

As a result the average time between take-offs was 15 minutes with the aircraft on the ground less than seven minutes taking 1:40 minutes as the average fill time maximum hopper capacity. The small 15-people strong Aviation Unit of the Protection and Rescue Directorate (Avio Oddelenie na Direkcijata za Zastita i Spasuvanje) is permanently based at Skopje Alexander the Great International airport from where it operates a fleet of three fully-operational AT-802A Fire Bosses that were procured in March 2009 and achieved full operational readiness status in late June 2010.

The Aviation Unit has been operational for seven years and is indeed very famous and highly respected in the Macedonian society because of the human aspect of its operations and the fact that despite being the smallest government aviation unit, it is receiving high serviceability and operational readiness.

Additionally, the AT-802A Fire Boss unit has relieved the Republic of Macedonia from a chronic dependence on international aid for its aerial firefighting needs when it comes to the nation’s capability to independently and efficiently handle wildfires that are quite regular for Macedonia in during the hot and dry May-September months. Macedonia’s Protection and Rescue Directorate Aviation Unit ground loading one of its AT-802A Fire Bosses at the Skopje Alexander the Great International airport. (photo Igor Bozinovski)

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