Kentucky air crews conclude wildfire fight

Kentucky National Guard Staff Report

Sgt Robert Brumfield keeps his eyes on a wildfire to release water from a Bambi bucket attached to a UH-60 Blackhawk in southeastern Kentucky, Nov. 7, 2016. More than 60 personnel in 10 aircraft assisted in the wildfire fight during the operation. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Tom Harrington)

Sgt Robert Brumfield keeps his eyes on a wildfire to release water from a Bambi bucket attached to a UH-60 Blackhawk in southeastern Kentucky, Nov. 7, 2016. More than 60 personnel in 10 aircraft assisted in the wildfire fight during the operation. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Tom Harrington)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — For the first time in 15 years, the Kentucky National Guard was called upon to assist with a wildland fire emergency in the commonwealth, Nov. 3 – 23.

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The event was also the first in that time frame to generate a state of emergency declaration from the governor’s office to activate state partners in order to support firefighting efforts.

More than 290 wildfires burned more than 46,000 acres in southeastern Kentucky according to the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

“One fire got out of our fire lines and beyond our capabilities, that’s when we asked to call in the National Guard,” said Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely, Nov. 4.

Due to the combination of dry conditions, fallen leaves and suspected arson, wildfires grew throughout the region.

Within 48 hours of the first fire, helicopters from the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade in Frankfort were actively participating in the wildfire battle.

With the use of bambi buckets, eight UH-60 Blackhawks provided water drops on fires burning in the area, while two UH-72 Lakotas were in the air as spotters for the Blackhawks and the Division of Forestry.

“Our aircrews train every year to be ready for missions like this,” said Maj. Mike Armstrong, commander of the 751st Aviation Troop Command. “We are flying in support of the Division of Forestry and making an impact to fight the fires back and help those that are being affected by the wildfires.”

The aircrews were responsible for dropping more than 1.4 million gallons of water through more than 350 bucket drops.

Kentucky Guardsmen train annually to stay proficient on aerial firefighting, but very few had experience prior to these fires.

“This has been a great cooperation with our state partners, specifically the Division of Forestry,” said Chief Warrant Officer Vincent Benfatti, a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot. “We have worked tirelessly fighting these fires, which has served as an invaluable learning and training opportunity for our aircrews.”

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