Whew, it's hot.
The temperature around the Fort Campbell, Ky., area held steady the past few weeks at more than 100 degrees, and little to no precipitation has turned much of the grass, shrubs and wooded areas into just the fuel needed to create a potentially blazing situation this Fourth of July holiday.
"The grass is very yellow, and you can tell that there hasn't been any precipitation for a while - it's all dry," said Spc. David Roberts, an air traffic control operator, for the 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade. "This dry environment makes it susceptible to (catch) fire."
Roberts was one of several Soldiers from the 7th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt., who participated in Bambi Bucket training June 28-29 at Fort Campbell's Kyle Lake in order to prepare 159th CAB Soldiers for the possible mission of fighting forest fires from the air.
When the Soldiers of the 159th CAB are called upon, they have three hours to get up in the air and be on their way to aid in extinguishing the wildland fire.
"Once the crews get spooled up, we will have what we call a hasty brief," said Staff Sgt. Jon Pena-Reyes, a CH-47 standardization instructor for Company B, 7th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt.
Pena-Reyes explained that the brief provides all the information the crew needs to execute the mission as safely as possible.
"We will hook up with … the forestry service, so we can coordinate the action that we are going to do, and then from there we go," he said. "We take the training that we know, the information that was given and just … execute."
The Soldiers trained for months on how to properly and safely conduct wildland firefighting using Bambi Buckets, which range in size from 75-gallon capacity all the way up to 2,600 gallons.
"(Bambi Bucket training) came about as a need to fight fires around the country," said Pena-Reyes. "The training is pretty intense with the Bambi Bucket - getting it set up, making sure everything is good, assessing the areas -- the lakes, because we are not working with stuff we built, we are working with Mother Nature."
Like most training in the military, the learning begins in a classroom.
"We start with academics," said Pena-Reyes. "We get (the Soldiers) in a classroom environment and … we show them the different types of buckets, maintenance inspection, how to inspect it, (the requirements we have to fulfill) before we use it, its serviceability - pretty much everything they need to know before they go out and actually put hands on the aircraft or hands on the bucket."
After they get through the classroom portion and become certified, the Soldiers move on to a more hands-on approach.
"We will let them get hands on with the bucket, so they can see what they were reading about," said Pena-Reyes. "We will take them out in the air. Since I am the instructor … I'll do an actual iteration. Once I feel that they are comfortable in their abilities then we throw them in, and we coach them from there."
Pena- Reyes said once he feels they are proficient, they get signed off and certified. There are annual requirements that must be met to stay certified, but once qualified, Soldiers are prepared to fight fires and save lives.
The buckets the Soldiers used for their certification June 28 and 29 were 2,000-gallon buckets. Once they were filled, the buckets weighed more than 18,000 pounds and carried enough water to cover about 100 meters of forest fire.
Though the Soldiers are prepared to respond to forest fires, this type of mission comes with the silent hope that the service won't be needed. There are a few things the average person can do to help minimize the risk of forest fires and decrease the likelihood of 159th CAB being called upon to assist in fighting such fires.
With temperatures predicted to dip back down into the 80's and 90's this weekend, many Families may be looking to take advantage of the reprieve with a camping trip. But just because the temperatures may have lowered, doesn't mean the risk of forest fires diminishes. All it takes is a small gust of wind near a campfire or a haphazardly tossed cigarette for acres of land to go up in flames, so as you're enjoying the hopefully cooler temperatures this weekend, please remain cognizant of the risk of forest fires. If you're camping, keep some water or a fire extinguisher nearby, be mindful of burning embers, and remember the words of Smokey the Bear "Only YOU can prevent forest fires!"