News: Arizona Army National Guard aviators lead the way in battling blazes
Story by Sgt. Lauren Twigg
TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, Ariz. -The Arizona Army National Guard has been battling wildfires here since Aug. 12, providing valuable aviation support to contain blazes.
Soldiers from Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 285th Aviation Regiment, are flying three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to support the Tonto National Forestry Division in suppressing the Charley Fire near Bartlett Lake, and the Mistake Peak Fire near Roosevelt Lake.
The Black Hawk crews from Papago Park Military Reservation are assisting with the wildfire control efforts by dropping water on fire lines using 530-gallon bambi buckets attached to the helicopters.
According to the Arizona State Forestry Division, ongoing drought conditions have fueled wildfires across the state. Nearly 1,500 wildfires have been reported in Arizona since January, affecting nearly 205,000 acres.
According to Lt. Col. Todd Rea, the state aviation officer for the Arizona National Guard, the aviators and crew supporting the wildfire suppression efforts will continue to work through the weekend and possibly into next week.
“The helicopters will be assisting the U.S. Forest Service's efforts to contain and extinguish the fires and will be utilized primarily for water bucket operations, fire fighter movement, re-supply efforts for the ground based fire crews and observation platforms,” Rea said.
On average, the Guard aviation crews have dropped nearly 140,000 gallons of water per day on the Charley Fire and by Wednesday evening flew more than 60 hours while battling the flames.
As of late Wednesday evening, the Charley Fire grew to 2,300 acres with 15% containment, and is now 3 miles southwest of Sunflower.
The TNFD also notes that “the above-normal temperatures continue to be of concern for firefighter safety, and are accelerating the reduction of fuel moisture despite the recent monsoon rains” for the Charley Fire. “Extremely rough terrain also complicates firefighting challenges, National Guard Black Hawk helicopters are critical in fire suppression efforts with the cliffy, rocky areas inaccessible to fire crews on ground.”
Above average temperatures and shifting winds from passing thunderstorms contributed to the Mistake Peak Fire growing to approximately 4,800 acres today and 15% contained, a release from the Northern Arizona Incident Management Team stated.
Additional assets have been called to assist, however availability has been limited due to wildfire response needs in other areas.
Currently, aviation crews have been diverted to focus primarily on the Charley Fire, but may go back to assist with efforts at Roosevelt Lake later in the week.