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NEWS | Aug. 17, 2012

Arizona Army National Guard aviators assist with wildfire suppression

By Sgt. Lauren DeVita, U.S. Army Arizona National Guard

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, Ariz. - Soldiers from the Arizona Army National Guard's Company A, 2nd Battalion, 285th Aviation Regiment have been assisting the U.S. Forest Service in suppressing the Charley Fire and the Mistake Peak Fire here.

Flying in three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, aircrews 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 almost 205,000 acres.

According to Army Lt. Col. Todd Rea, the state aviation officer for the Arizona Army National Guard, the aviators and crew supporting the wildfire suppression efforts are scheduled to 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 aircrews 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 percent containment.

Rough terrain has complicated firefighting challenges, said Forest Service officials, adding that the helicopters and crews from the Arizona Army Guard have been 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 with 15 percent containment, a release from the Northern Arizona Incident Management Team said.

Additional assets have been called to assist, however availability has been limited due to wildfire response needs in other areas.

Currently, aviation crews are focusing primarily on the Charley Fire, but may go back to assist with efforts at Roosevelt Lake later in the week.