Part 3 in a 5-part series
Current as of 5 p.m. June 25, 2012
Through June 22, among the aviation assets fighting the High Park fire in northern Colorado, were Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters.
Since the beginning of National Guard aviation operations June 10, Soldiers could be found in the air and on the ground, whether dumping water on the flames from on high, or refueling and maintaining the helicopters to keep them in the fight.
Among the more than 20 aircraft deployed in the firefight, at any time, were two Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, decked out with bright orange war paint, operated by Soldiers from Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska. With a Bambi Bucket slung under each helicopter, crews dropped 500 gallons of water at a time on the raging inferno below.
One additional helicopter has been on continuous standby, providing the incident management team a unique search-and-rescue capability that is unmatched by civilian assets. So far, the SAR bird has only been called on once for a possible patient egress, and the crew was in the air within minutes of alert. Although the Black Hawk was on scene, ground crews successfully completed evacuation without the use of the helicopter's hoist.
The integration of the National Guard assets into a Type 1 Incident Management Team isn't unheard of. In fact, this fire is the second time Army Aviator Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dave Flores, of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation, Nebraska National Guard, has been involved in such an emergency.
He said the highlight of this mission was working with other National Guard members in a mixed crew with Colorado Soldiers, as well as working with other agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service.
Flores said he was confident in the skills of the U.S. Forest Service and the High Park fire Incident Management Team, who worked diligently to minimize confusion among the various aircraft crews.
"The Forest Service has procedures to ensure we're all talking on the same frequency to get in and out of the fire without confusion," he said.
And as to the memories he'll fly home with, Flores says he'll remember the look and smell of smoke, and the sight and feel of searing flames as he operated the cockpit controls -- and witnessing all the destruction as he flew in the path of the fire.
A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Flores hopes to continue using his unique skills and experience to aid others in his civilian life as he pursues full-time career as an aviator.
"As a result of this fire, the Colorado National Guard and the Rocky Mountain Type 1 IMT are collaborating to produce a framework for the integration of National Guard assets into large-scale fire incents," said Maj. Quinton German, Colorado National Guard liaison officer to the incident management team.
As of June 22, National Guard aviation crews effectively dropped 179 buckets of water, equating to nearly 82,000 gallons of fire-quenching power.
One Colorado Army National Guard helicopter crew, armed with a hoist, remains prepared for any search-and-rescue operation, as needed by the IMT.
All stories in this series:
Part 1: Orders received
Part 2: Outflanking the flames
Part 3: Conducting terrain flight operations
Part 4: Securing the perimeter
Part 5: Command and signal