Guard helicopters drop hundreds of thousands of gallons of water during firefighting
BY Staff Reports
Monday, August 06, 2012
8/06/12 at 6:36 PM
Continuing coverage: View photos and video of the fires here.
Six National Guard helicopters dropped hundreds of thousands of gallons of water on wildfires across the state over the weekend, and two were fighting fires Monday afternoon in Creek and Payne Counties.
National Guard Chinooks and Blackhawks were deployed from Tulsa and Lexington. They dropped 387,000 gallons of water on Saturday and likely dropped significantly more Sunday, said Oklahoma Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Max Moss.
“I anticipate the total number of gallons dropped over the weekend will be close to a million,” said Moss, who indicated that Sunday’s total gallons dropped were still being calculated.
Moss said more water was dropped Sunday, because the fire lines were closer to available water sources. That meant shorter flights for pilots making round trips from the water to the fire.
“They are the best of the best the military has. They are very skilled at fighting fires,” Moss said of the pilots flying the CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Blackhawks that supported firefighters on the ground.
The Oklahoma Guard has six helicopters available for fighting fires, but in recent weeks — when fires have burned across the state — usually one or two have been deployed, Moss said.
That changed Saturday and Sunday, when the six helicopters dropped water on fires in Creek, Cleveland, Oklahoma, Payne and Pittsburgh Counties, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
If a decision was made to call in more helicopters than Oklahoma has available, there are agreements with neighboring states, Moss said.
Incident commanders on the ground determine when helicopters are needed, Moss said. They notify the Emergency Management Department, which contacts the National Guard with instructions on where to send air support.
Two helicopters were on standby Monday, and when that's the case, “we can get that bird in the air within an hour,” Moss said.
A helicopter drops water on a large grass fire east of 120th near Cemetery Road on Friday east of Norman. STEVE SISNEY/NewsOK.com