H125s tasked with firefighting in Chile


Rotortec’s H125 fleet has flown more than 400 fire-fighting hours this season. (Photo credit: Airbus).

As the peak fire season closes in Chile,  Airbus H125 operator Rotortec reflects on the lessons learned during another intense firefighting campaign.

“In Chile we are used to forest fires, unfortunately it is something that is already part of our country because of its geography and weather conditions,” explains José Tomás García, pilot at Rotortec. “But what marked this fire season was that this year the fire reached the big urban centres, burning down many houses and causing the loss of many lives.”

Operating a fleet of four H125s, Rotortec has flown more than 400 fire-fighting hours this summer season in the Southern Hemisphere putting out fires. The operator’s main missions have been dropping water and retardant on the flames. But it has also carried out other key missions such as the airborne coordination of ground resources or flying terrestrial firefighters to the scenes of fire.

400 fire-fighting hours

Rotortec’s H125s are equipped with water buckets, a heli-basket and a cargo hook with load indicator. Carrying FM radios, aircrew are able to communicate directly with ground crew and activate a siren before each water discharge.

Francisco Fluxá, general manager of Rotortec and also a pilot with more than 4,000 hours in his logbooks said the operator often fought forest fires at high altitudes. “We operate firefighting missions mainly between December and March, which is the most complicated time of the year,” he said. “We move from the central zone to the southern zone, in the lake region, where there are native forests above 5,000 feet.”

Fluxá praised the responsiveness of the  H125 aircraft. “It has a power margin that no other helicopter has, especially when fighting fires at higher altitudes, which is a frequent occurrence in Chile,” he said.

‘Most demanding helicopter missions’

Airbus Helicopters said: “If firefighting is by itself one of the most demanding helicopter missions, doing it at very high altitudes is something only a few can talk about.”  This year’s firefighting season has been particularly tough, it added.

Since the start of last year, more than 5,300 forest fires have been recorded in Chile. One of them in February 2024 in the Valparaíso region claimed the lives of more than 130 people, destroying more than 8,600 hectares and more than 4,500 homes.

The Chilean government declared two days of mourning and described the fires as the nation’s worst disaster since the 2010 earthquake. While summer wildfires are common in Chile – with the peak fire season beginning in December – the latest fires are thought to have been exacerbated by a particularly intense El Niño weather pattern.

Outside the fire season, Rotortec deploys its H125 on agricultural missions, passenger transport and emergency response flights in mountaineous regions and other areas of the country.

The peak fire season in Chile begins in December.