OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Army National Guard helicopter crews dropped nearly 400,000 gallons of water on wildfires in Northwestern Oklahoma July 16-19 and 27-29.
During the two multiday missions, Oklahoma Army National Guard crews flying UH-60 Black Hawk and LUH-72 Lakota helicopters conducted 744 water drops, releasing around 399,700 gallons on fires in Blaine and Woodward counties.
“I love supporting Oklahoma,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan Johnson, one of the pilots who helped battle the fires from above. “Especially this mission, because it’s so urgent and important for farmers and our communities.”
The buckets used by Oklahoma Army National Guard helicopter crews hold up to 660 gallons of water that can be dropped directly on fires or in areas where incident commanders and firefighters want to prevent spread.
Brian Ryles, a forest ranger with the Oklahoma Forestry Service and part of the unified command for the fire in Blaine County, said the National Guard helicopters’ ability to drop water in places traditional firefighters cannot go is critical to stopping the spread of fires in Northwest Oklahoma.
“We all have weaknesses, we all have our strengths, and when we all come together and put all our strengths together, it’s very effective,” Ryles said. “Everybody is on the same plan and working hand in hand and I couldn’t be any prouder of the Forestry Service, local fire departments and National Guard – everything is working great.”
Johnson, who also serves as the officer in charge of the Oklahoma National Guard Joint Operations Center, said once a request for support is submitted through the Office of Emergency Management and approved by the governor, National Guard planners begin working with local incident commanders like Ryles and National Guard aviators to plan how to best support firefighting operations.
“When we arrive on a fire, the helicopter [crews] get an idea of what’s going on with the fire chief on the ground and develop a plan and then begin fire operations,” Johnson said.
Johnson commended employers and families of each Guard member who volunteered for the mission. The flight crews and the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard members in the Joint Operations Center are traditional Guard members who took time off from their civilian jobs to fight the fires. Without their support, the Oklahoma National Guard couldn’t do its job.
“Everyone loves this mission because they get to actually fight flames and be with firefighters,” Johnson said. “The quick reaction means a lot to the farmers, and the community is very supportive.”