The Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) is saddened to learn about the death of Colorado Fire Aviation Pilot Marc Thor Olson in a crash involving a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) last night responding to the Kruger Rock Fire in Larimer County. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Olson’s family, our friends at CO Fire Aviation, and the entire firefighting community as we grieve this loss.
The aircraft was contracted by Larimer County for this fire, and DFPC can confirm that it was not a State-owned aircraft or an aircraft flying under a State contract. The DFPC has engaged in the study of the use of aircraft in night operations on wildland fire through its Center of Excellence in Rifle, CO. Night suppression activities potentially offer increased advantages to suppression efforts due to lower temperatures, increased humidities, and reduced winds. DFPC’s research effort has been focused on the use of rotor-wing aircraft (helicopters) during night operations and first used a helicopter for night operations on the Virginia Dale Fire in September of 2021 after two years of Night Operations training and currency flights.
The use of fixed-wing air tankers has not been extensively studied by the DFPC’s Center of Excellence. The use of rotary and fixed wing aircraft at night, using night vision technology, is widely and successfully used by the U.S. Military and in certain public safety environments, but there is less research and practical experience with fixed wing assets in wildland fire suppression.
It is too early to know the cause of this tragedy and whether it is even related to night operations, but the DFPC, through its partnership with Larimer County, the US Forest Service, the contract aircraft company CO-Fire Aviation, the FAA and the NTSB, hopes to learn all that we can from this tragedy to advance the safe and efficient use of aviation assets to effectively and safely respond to wildland fire during daytime and potential future night operations.