Air support curbs runaway wildfire

A Type I Helitak helicopter drops its 2000-gallon water load on the Ayers Fire on Saturday. (Wade Habeck photo)

By Katie Allen and Sarah Pridgeon

Crook County’s volunteer firefighters were called away from the County Fair parade on Saturday to respond to a wildland fire on the Ayers ranch. As the fire began to head for an inaccessible area, a Type I Helitak aircraft, courtesy of the US Forest Service, was diverted from an incident in the Bearlodge Mountains to help contain the flames.

The aircraft, which drops 2000 gallons of water with each load, made eight runs to the fire and dropped a total of 16,000 gallons to suppress the fire’s head. This allowed the firefighters to contain and control the fire, which had begun to climb the canyon into areas that couldn’t be accessed from the ground.

Thanks to the timely intervention of the air support, the fire was contained at less than 10 acres. According to Fire Warden Gari Gill, the fire would otherwise have claimed hundreds of acres.

“It wasn’t that we did not have enough men and equipment, it’s that we had no way to get to the fire to contain it before it topped the canyon and crossed over,” said Gill. “The terrain is some of the roughest we have here in the county and the only way we can really attack these types of fires is with aircraft. I commend our volunteers once again for their professionalism and dedication. I truly want to express my thanks to the local fire departments and the Forest Service for such excellent work on all these fires.”

Units on scene at the Ayers Fire included 24 firefighters, seven pump trucks, two water tenders, numerous “ranch units” and a D3 dozer, as well as the Type I Helitak helicopter.

“Fighting fires during this time of year is hot, dirty, dangerous work,” he continued. “A slight wind change like we had on this one can take a small lightning-smoldering tree and turn it into a major event. Our firefighters, with their rapid response, have been able to contain these fires to small acreages for the most part but, as drier conditions continue, the chances of a fire getting out of control increase. I ask all citizens of the County to please use extreme caution with all your outdoor activities and remember that the County Wide open burning restrictions are still in place for all private, State and Federal lands.”