Colorado Helicopter Units Help Suppress Massive Wildfire

Soldiers of the Colorado Army National Guard prepare to take off from the Spring Creek Fire helibase, Fort Garland, Colo., in UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters equipped with aerial water buckets to support fire suppression efforts in the State this past July. Colorado National Guard photo by TSgt Dixie Manzanares

Colorado National Guard helicopter and helibase support crews aided response efforts to the Spring Creek Fire in the southern Colorado counties of Huerfano and Costilla in early July. 

Equipped with aerial water buckets, the crews and helicopters from 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, arrived July 2 and conducted firefighting operations until July 10. The unit dropped more than 462 aerial water buckets on the fire in nearly 60 flight hours. 

That included a unit daily high of 113 buckets on July 9, dropped by two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that flew for a combined 10 hours. The overall number of 462 buckets of water equals roughly 208,000 gallons or 1.7 million pounds. To put it into perspective, a 50-meter Olympic-size swimming pool holds approximately 660,000 gallons.

The success of the team was largely due to the forward refueling point, operated by Colorado Army National Guard Soldiers of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation, who provided support to Colorado Guard aircraft fighting the blaze. This support allowed crews to save more than 30 minutes in refueling time because they could fill up without shutting down or having to fly to a more distant airport.

Meanwhile, the Colorado National Guard’s 1157th Engineer Company (Firefighters) provided 10 members for fire suppression support at the Spring Fire helibase in Fort Garland, Colorado.

“I’m proud of the support provided by our aviation and helibase support crews,” said Air Force Brig Gen Gregory White, director of the Joint Staff U.S. Air Force and commander of Joint Task Force – Centennial. “Their work provided a significant contribution to the overall response. As long as we are needed, we will continue to support security efforts on the ground to safeguard communities near the Spring Fire.”

The incident commander and the sheriffs of Huerfano and Costilla counties continued to employ more than 50 Colorado National Guard members, who assisted with traffic control points, roving patrols, area escort and general security.

Beginning June 30, the Colorado Guard provided an aviation search and rescue standby capability in support of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. The 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment supported the mission out of the CW5 David R. Carter Army Aviation Support Facility on Buckley Air Force Base from June 30 until called to fight the Spring Fire July 2. 

The High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site facility in Gypsum, Colorado, began providing support for the mission on July 2. The unit provided rapid response to aviation search and rescue missions, primarily for firefighter safety, in support of multiple wildfire responses throughout Colorado.

The Spring Creek Fire burned more than 108,000 acres and was the third-largest wildfire in Colorado history. The fire was fully contained by the end of July.

On order of the governor, the standing Joint Task Force – Centennial, led by Brig Gen White, commands and integrates Colorado National Guard forces to support civil authorities in assisting Colorado, or supported states, during times of crisis and disaster to save lives, prevent suffering and mitigate great property damage. 

By MAJ Darin Overstreet, Colorado National Guard

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