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Fire managers say helicopters play vital role

By Will Wadley, KECI Weekend Anchor, wwadley@keci.com
Published On: Aug 23 2013 06:51:15 PM MDT
Updated On: Aug 23 2013 09:11:30 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Fire managers at the Lolo Creek Complex tell us helicopters provide a vital suppression role on wildfires.

There are two Bell U-H1H aircraft, called 'Hueys' in the military, at the helibase in Lolo. Each is a $2 million machine that can dump almost 20,000 gallons of water a day on a fire.

On Friday one of them used a snorkel to fill its tank with water from a nearby drop site and dump it on a flank of the blaze burning a couple miles away. The job takes a highly skilled pilot and teamwork from crews on the ground.

"They can call up and say exactly which flank, which side of the head, which dip site it is, so they can get that information to the pilot,” said Helibase Manager Cliff White. “The pilot can do the opposite. You might not see this bowl. We have a spot fire a half-mile away, so it's actually complete teamwork."

A team of at least three people, including the pilot, are directly assigned to each aircraft.

Aircraft supervisors tell us a Huey usually dumps about 5,000 gallons of water a day. On a busy day like Thursday, one Huey dumped 17,000 gallons of water.