Black Hawks on Fire Initial Attack in Lolo - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Black Hawks on Fire Initial Attack in Lolo

Posted: Updated:
LOLO CREEK -

Aviation fire crews are dropping fire retardant and buckets of water on the flames of the Lolo Creek Complex.

On Friday, those crews are assisted by a team of Montana National Guardsmen and a black hawk helicopter.

Right around 100 members of the guard are on the ground and now in the air, helping attack the nation's top firefighting priority.

Black hawk pilots and crew chiefs said they follow in DNRC helicopters, and help suppress new blazes spotted on the Lolo Creek Complex.

"Wildfires are probably our most dangerous flying that we do," said Major John Gehring.

Gehring pilots the 14,000-pound black hawk helicopter when the four-man crew is sent out on initial attack of a wildfire.

He said, "We get the fires when we first start, we get out there, get some water on them and then come back and wait for the next call."

Gehring is flanked by a second pilot, who monitors the helicopter's instrumentation during flight, and two crew chiefs sit directly behind the pilots.

Members of the guard said communication is crucial between the two crew chiefs in the rear and the two pilots in the front, in order to properly and safely drop water from a 660-gallon bucket.

Gehring said their water bucket is larger than those of the DNRC helicopters, and sometimes they're forced to find a deeper water source to dip from.

"We're calling the drops -- we're actually not in our seats, we're on tethers looking, we have our doors open, we're leaning out the doors looking for our drop zone," said Sergeant Kyle Herman.

Herman said crew chiefs are technically flight mechanics, but during fire season, they experience quite an adrenaline rush while in the air.

"We say 'three, two, one, mark' and on mark, they're pressing the button, releasing the water," Herman explained.

Herman said the black hawk crew uses various drop techniques based on the type of terrain they're flying over.

"…whether we want all that water in a funnel in one spot, or whether we do a line or kind of a sweeping along a ridge," he said.

Gehring and Herman said the National Guard has built a strong partnership with DNRC aviation crews over many wildfire seasons in Montana.

They go through training every spring, so they're prepared to launch, come wildfire season.

"Anything really to do with aviation is exciting," Herman said.

Officials said a second black hawk helicopter and more National Guard teams will arrive next week on the fire.

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