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W.Va. Guard Aircraft and personnel assist with aerial firefighting support

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – On March 22, two West Virginia National Guard UH60M and HH60M Blackhawk helicopters and personnel arrived on scene and are assisting the West Virginia Division of Forestry and local government and emergency management officials in Hardy County, West Virginia, as they combat large-scale wildland fires..

The deployment of aircraft and personnel is in response to West Virginia Governor Justice’s State of Emergency issued for Grant, Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties due to “extensive forest fires” announced Thursday afternoon. Local emergency management officials made the request for Guard support via the West Virginia Emergency Management Division Thursday evening, and Guard assets were mobilized and on scene Friday morning.

“The Guard motto is, ‘Always Ready, Always There’,” stated Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard. “We take that pledge seriously and we are always ready to provide support to our partners at the local and state levels when needed. Our aircrews have extensive experience in helping to combat wildland fires, and we will do all we can to help bring these fires under control to protect lives and property in the impacted communities.”

The two WVNG Blackhawks on scene are utilizing an aerial firefighting system called a “Bambi Bucket.” The lightweight, flexible buckets are slung under the helicopter fuselage and are capable of holding 630 gallons, equating to roughly 4,500 pounds of water. During flight operations, helicopter crews dip the buckets into local water sources, then deliver the payload of water as directed by ground crews over the fire line. This delivery method allows firefighters to contain or extinguish the fire in areas of rough and dangerous terrain that ground-based personnel could not safely or easily reach.

West Virginia National Guard crews are very experienced in this type of firefighting, with recent experience assisting firefighting efforts in California, and here at home. In November of 2022, crews assisted officials to combat a large-scale fire in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve that threatened homes and businesses and burned more than 200 acres.

“Our crews are some of the best in the nation and we will continue to support efforts to combat these fires until our partners with the Division of Forestry say the danger has passed,” said Lt. Col. Todd Justice, Director of Joint Operations. “These fires are extensive, with a total of more than 4,000 acres burned thus far. We will do all we can to protect our fellow West Virginians and work to keep local responders safe.”

Personnel and aircraft responding to this incident are from Company C, 1-150th Assault Battalion, headquartered in Wheeling, and Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion headquartered in Parkersburg. Additional Guard personnel and equipment may be deployed based on requests from officials.

West Virginia National Guard personnel conduct aerial wildland firefighting sorties over Hardy County, West Virginia, on March 22, 2024. West Virginia Jim Justice declared a State of Emergency for four counties in the Eastern Panhandle of the Mountain State due to serious wildland fires that have consumed more than 4,000 acres of woodlands and threaten local communities and residences. Crews flying UH60M and HH60M Blackhawk helicopters from Company C, 1-150th Assault Battalion and Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion are utilizing an aerial firefighting system called a “Bambi Bucket” capable of dropping up to 630 gallons of water on active fire lines per sortie to combat the blazes. The delivery method allows firefighters to contain or extinguish the fire in areas of rough and dangerous terrain that ground-based personnel could not safely or easily reach. (Courtesy Photo)