By Staff Sgt. Ben Houtkooper, Minnesota National GuardSeptember 21, 2011
ELY, Minn., Sept. 21, 2011 -- Four Minnesota National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters are helping battle a 100,000-acre wildfire.
At the direction of Gov. Mark Dayton, four Minnesota National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, along with Army and Air National Guard Aviation support teams, began assisting the ongoing firefighting efforts Sept. 13 within the Pagami Creek region of northeastern Minnesota.
According to the U. S. Forest Service, the more than 100,000-acre wildfire has been burning since Aug. 18 in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, along with several smaller fires to the east and north in Canada.
The fire started when a lightning strike ignited the blaze. While the fire burned in a relatively small area during the first few weeks, high winds and low humidity spread it over 80,000 acres in a single day. Smoke plumes from the massive fire traveled as far as Chicago, nearly 500 miles away.
Campers evacuated from the area reported seeing 200 foot-high tornadoes of flame engulfing trees within seconds.
The four Black Hawk helicopters equipped with 660 gallon 'Bambi Buckets' have dropped more than 400,000 gallons of water on the blaze.
"Our crew members are training every year with other agencies around the state, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, for this type of mission," said Capt. Jon Andrews, officer-in-charge of the helicopter detachment. "It's great that, even with more than 3,000 Minnesota National Guard Soldiers and Airmen deployed around the world right now, we are still able to support the citizens of Minnesota in this mission."
Unpredictable weather conditions in the area have helped and hindered the firefighting efforts. High turbulence over the wildfire repelled the pilots on the first day. Hail and sleet also grounded crews for several hours on the second day, but also brought the fire to a smoldering standstill.
After assisting with the firefighting mission, the helicopters and crews returned to their home stations today.
"As we know, we can always count on the Minnesota National Guard to answer in crisis, the needs of their fellow citizens, and they've done so once again, heroically," said Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.