The Department of Natural Resources just got a boost in its firefighting efforts. DNR announced the recent acquisition of a 1970 Huey helicopter that it is refurbishing to help suppress forest fires in the state.
The 49-year-old helicopter was given to DNR free of charged after the Army decommissioned it. Once restored, the Vietnam-era helicopter will join the DNR’s nine other reconditioned Hueys in its fleet.
Helicopters are “efficient firefighting tools,” Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said to KING-TV. Renovating a retired Army aircraft also is less expensive than purchasing a brand-new helicopter, she added.
Said Franz to KING-TV:
“They’re able to get that fire easier contained and also in some very challenging topography where we can’t really get our firefighters in safely. We are trying to do the best we have with limited resources to make the most, so we have the kind of resources we need on the initial attack and keep our fire small.”
The reconditioned helicopters are a part of the DNR’s Aviation Program, which provides rapid-response aerial and on-the-ground assistance in wildland fires. The former military helicopters are reconfigured to include fire suppression capabilities and transport DNR’s Helitack crews into otherwise unreachable areas. The wildland firefighting helicopters are available for dispatch throughout all of Washington state.
The Aviation Program and its Helitack teams are trained to seamlessly integrate with regional firefighting teams and other agencies to help contain wildfires and prevent them from spreading.
During fire season, crews are staged throughout the state to facilitate a speedy response. DNR’s aerial support teams are trained to respond to developing fires within five minutes. DNR determines where to place its crews based on assessed wildfire risk, weather forecasts, topography, past wildfire occurrence and available resources. Historically, Helitack crews have operated out of Omak, Deer Park, Dallesport, Pomeroy, Wenatchee, Colville and Olympia.
Restoration of the newly acquired Huey will cost $1.1 million and be completed in time for next year’s wildfire season.