A crash in the spring of last year that caused the death of a pilot of a tanker responding to a wildfire near Cold Lake in Alberta, Canada according to an investigative report released by the Transportation and Safety Board (TSB) of Canada was caused by a wildfire phenomenon known as a fire whirl of fire tornado. This fire phenomenon has been reported by wildland firefighters at other fires, one recently in Oregon. Fire whirls are tornado-like weather events that can be generated by a fire. Small ones have been likened to dust devils or water whirls. Larger wind events like this generated by a wildfire can have the power of a tornado generated by a thunderstorm.
According to the report, the tanker had picked up a load of water from Marie Lake and responded to the fire with 4 other tankers. The formation headed to the drop site where the first two planes were able to make their drop safely and without any difficulty. The third plane in the formation encountered severe turbulence which caused the pilot of this tanker to hit his head.
According to the report, when the fourth tanker which was involved in the collision attempted to make its drop; “T692 (the tanker that crashed) also encountered a severe turbulence event, at 1630:54, 10 seconds after T693 (the third tanker in the formation). The aircraft DAAM system recorded a change from 4.2g to −3.2g in 1.0 second. T692 was seen to pitch to a nose-up attitude and climb to approximately 400–500 feet agl. The aircraft was then observed to roll left and enter a nose-down attitude. T692 struck the ground in a large open area (borrow pit) at 1630:59, right-wing low and close to nose-level”
The investigation concluded that neither mechanics, pilot error nor the weight of the load caused the collision but that severe changes in the atmospheric conditions were. The conclusion was that more fire weather training should be made available to pilots who support firefighting efforts to help them be safer during hazardous wildfire suppression operations.