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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

National Guard Helicopter Joins Montana Firefighting Efforts

This massive Black Hawk chopper is on loan from the Montana National Guard as part of the resource-sharing enabled by a state of fire emergency declared by Governor Steve Bullock last month.
Nicky Ouellet
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This massive Black Hawk chopper is on loan from the Montana National Guard as part of the resource-sharing enabled by a state of fire emergency declared by Governor Steve Bullock last month.

In the past week alone, firefighters in northwest Montana attacked more than 40 small wildfires, and there’s no end in sight for this summer’s active fire season. But, firefighters are about to get some big help.

"That is the Black Hawk coming in right there," says Wyatt Frampton.

Frampton, a fire aviation manager with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, joins a dozen firefighters stepping out of a hangar at the Kalispell city airport to watch the Black Hawk helicopter touch down.

"It'll fly in tandem with our state helicopter "94Mic," and they will fly together and suppress fires they're called to," Frampton says.

The massive chopper is on loan from the Montana National Guard as part of the resource sharing enabled by a state of fire emergency declared by Governor Steve Bullock last month.

"We've been extremely effective at sharing the resources that we do have, and are going to be further boosted by this addition from the National Guard."

The Black Hawk comes with a 670 gallon bucket and two sets of flight crews -- that’s 9 people -- to help the DNRC in its main objective to fight initial attack on new wildfire starts.

"Initial attack is our primary way of reducing fire suppression costs as well as reducing firefighter exposure to the hazards of fighting fire. By keeping fires small we reduce firefighter exposure on the line," says Frampton.

Montana National Guard Black Hawk helicopter landing.
Credit Nicky Ouellet
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Montana National Guard Black Hawk helicopter landing.

In addition to the Black Hawk, two Montana National Guard Chinook helicopters were assigned to the Meyers-Whetstone Ridge fire southwest of Philipsburg earlier this month. Other resources, including mapping and super scooper planes, bulldozers, excavators, engines and firefighters, are on loan from across the state, country and even down from Canada. Frampton calls the constantly changing requests for and fulfillment of resources, "an exercise in coordination."

He says this do-si-do of equipment will likely continue through the end of fire season.

"Current trends are indicating that fire season is still a long ways from over. Forecasts continue to show hot, dry and windy conditions. so currently, there's no end in sight."

Since the start of August, Flathead County has dispatched firefighters to 38 wildland fires and 47 illegal burns. Campfire restrictions are in place across all of Montana.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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