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NEWS | March 22, 2024

West Virginia Guard Fighting Wildfires From the Air

By Edwin Wriston, West Virginia National Guard

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Two West Virginia National Guard UH60M and HH60M Black Hawk helicopters and personnel helped the West Virginia Division of Forestry and local government and emergency management officials battle large-scale wildfires in Hardy County March 22.

The deployment of aircraft and personnel was in response to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s state of emergency issued March 21 for Grant, Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties due to “extensive forest fires.” Local emergency management officials requested National Guard support via the West Virginia Emergency Management Division.

“The Guard motto is, ‘Always Ready, Always There,’” stated Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard. “We take that pledge seriously and we are always ready to provide support to our partners at the local and state levels when needed. Our aircrews have extensive experience in helping to combat wildland fires, and we will do all we can to help bring these fires under control to protect lives and property in the impacted communities.”

The two WVNG Black Hawks are using an aerial firefighting system with lightweight, flexible buckets slung under the helicopter fuselage that can hold 630 gallons—roughly 4,500 pounds of water. Helicopter crews dip the buckets into local water sources and drop the water as directed by ground crews. This allows firefighters to contain or extinguish the fire in rough, dangerous terrain ground-based personnel cannot easily reach.

West Virginia National Guard crews are experienced in this type of firefighting, assisting in firefighting efforts in California and at home. In November 2022, crews helped officials combat a fire in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve that threatened homes and businesses and burned more than 200 acres.

“Our crews are some of the best in the nation and we will continue to support efforts to combat these fires until our partners with the Division of Forestry say the danger has passed,” said Lt. Col. Todd Justice, director of Joint Operations. “These fires are extensive, with a total of more than 4,000 acres burned thus far. We will do all we can to protect our fellow West Virginians and work to keep local responders safe.”

Personnel and aircraft responding to this incident are from Company C, 1-150th Assault Battalion, headquartered in Wheeling, and Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, headquartered in Parkersburg. Additional Guard personnel and equipment may be deployed if needed.



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