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EVERY WILDFIRE IS DIFFERENT AND EVERY WILDFIRE MUST BE RESPECTED. It is another triple-digit afternoon, and the third call-out of the day. The radios are awash in static and layers of non-stop chatter. With each hiss and scratch, a mental picture is drawn of the size and scope of the fire. Each crew member prepares for what is to come, and tries to push down rising adrenaline with an outward façade of calm.


Both S-2 air tankers have already made their initial drops and are heading back to base to reload and return. Directed in by the airtactical plane orbiting the columns of smoke, the gleaming white and red UH- 1H ‘Super Huey’ charges in at low-level and banks hard to the left. Eyes inside the rotorcraft thoroughly survey the area through airborne debris and haze for any threats adjacent to their chosen landing zone.


The Huey, battered by hot winds, descends purposefully through a large gap in the 100-foot pines and comes to a hover 4 feet above a rocky outcrop near the fire line. The large, aft compartment doors on each side of the aircraft slide to the rear. The firefighters offload their gear and hand tools before they drop off the skids onto the rocks and scrub brush. The captain, positioned on the left skid, grabs a handhold and manhandles the large orange Bambi bucket into two pairs of waiting arms. The helitack’s two newest recruits - pounded by the rotor wash - cradle the 324-gallon bucket and move quickly to the nose of the hovering copter. With everyone clear of the immediate area, except the one firefighter performing the hover hook, the pilot pulls enough collective to allow the bucket to be attached to a belly hook without that firefighter having to stoop. With bucket and electrical connections checked and verified, the remaining firefighter clears out.


36 May 2015


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