BUTTE - I’m at the Heli-base of the Bear Creek wildfire about an hour southwest of Dillon where crews are relying on air support to battle this large wildfire.
Several helicopters collected water in buckets that hold up the 400 gallons and have been dumping it on the fire burning in remote and rugged terrain in the Beaverhead Deer Lodge National Forest. The fire, which started Aug. 11, has grown to just over 6,300 acres.
“These guys are probably averaging maybe 17 to 18 buckets in a fuel cycle, which is typically two hours,” said Air Support Supervisor Josh Klare.
The air support includes two airplanes scooping water from the Clark Canyon Reservoir about 30 miles away and dropping it on the fire.
“One of the bigger challenges for aircraft is wind. Being this close to the Continental Divide the winds can be kind of bad in all directions at all times,” said Klare.
Along with the fire, crews have to stay safe from the coronavirus. This involves maintaining more distance between crews.
“We’re having people kind of spike out on the line and stay out, so they’re not interacting with as many people. Everyone’s wearing masks when they’re around groups of people, so we’re just trying to take different mitigations to keep the community safe, keep our firefighters safe,” said Public Information Officer Alex Schwier.
Another way the coronavirus has changed their strategy in dealing with this wildfire is relying more on air support to take on a more primary role in fighting the fire.
“Just to minimize as much as we can the intermixing of crews. You know, the agency as a whole, the firefighting world as a whole, we on-boarded more aircraft this year,” said Klare.
And with more weather coming into the area causing unpredictable conditions, crews are expected to be very busy this week.