Guard Spotlight: Alaska Wildfire Response

 

Alaska National Guard fights Alaska wildfires
This summer has been full of wildfires throughout Alaska. Numerous firefighting teams have been called up from the lower United States to help in the fight. One of the teams that have joined in the fight is a local team, the Alaska Army National Guard. Using two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and Bambi-Buckets, the Alaska Army National Guard teams have been performing firefighting missions in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, Fire Services based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska. On Friday, June 26, the team flew their aircraft down to Tok, Alaska, to assist in fighting a few large fires in the area. Using internal aircraft communications, the crew chief Sgt. Philip Peter talked to the pilots Chief Warrant Officer 4 Nyle Harrison and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Molly Reque to guide them onto ponds. From that point the crew used the Bambi-Bucket to gather around 800 gallons of water and fly to the selected area of the fire to extinguish the flames in that location. The dropping of the water could be controlled by either the pilots or the crew chief. The teams worked with the fire mission flight controller, who circled the area in a plane and guided both the helicopters and skimmer aircraft onto flare up areas. Both the helicopters and skimmers took turns bombarding the fire filled trees with water until they reached their flight time limits. (Photo by Sherman Hogue/Fort Wainwright PAO)

Eleven crews from the Alaska National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment have spent the past month battling wildfires from above in their UH-6 Black Hawk helicopters. Following the hottest May ever recorded and an early snow cover melt off, the state’s dry forests and tundra fell victim to lightning strikes that sparked hundreds of fires in June. A total of 319 fires were still raging simultaneously across the state at the end of last month, and more than 1.1 million acres of land had burned.

The 1-207th crews joined some 2,700 other firefighters working to combat the blazes that threaten populated areas. Fires in remote areas are monitored closely but left to burn.

The first call to support the firefight came at 5 p.m. on June 14. By 7 p.m., National Guard crews were in the air performing water bucket operations and dropping thousands of gallons on the Sockeye Fire, which affected nearly 8,000 acres and destroyed more than 50 homes.

Five days later, the regiment’s aircrews were transferred to the Kenai Peninsula where several spot fires had begun overnight. The area’s rough terrain meant they could get there before the ground crews to begin suppressing the fire and stop it from spreading.

“We are the initial attack for the Stetson Creek Fire,” Army National Guard Lt. Col. Robert Kurtz said in a NationalGuard.mil news article. “It will be up to our aircrews to determine where to drop water, and we are solely responsible out there at this point.”

Aircrews flew more than 200 bucket missions and dumped more than 144,000 gallons of water on that fire alone. All totaled between June 14 and July 2, according to the Army News Service, the 1-207th logged 132 flight hours and dropped 878,200 gallons of water during 1,103 bucket missions.

Alaska is no stranger to wildfires, but this summer’s number of fires burning simultaneously across such a vast area was unprecedented enough for Gov. Bill Walker to issue a State Disaster Declaration. And, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, the situation is on track toward surpassing 2004 as the worst wildfire season on record.

To the brave Soldiers of 1-207th, On Your Guard says “thank you and be safe.” If you aspire to protect your State’s citizens and land when natural disasters strike, consider making it happen through a part-time commitment in the Army National Guard. Search our jobs board for available opportunities and contact a recruiter today.

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