Oregon firefighting helicopters deployed in Afghanistan as state battles wildfires

Helicopters are crucial in fighting large fires, especially in rough terrain

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Friday 11 September 2020 22:07 BST
Sky turns red after fire storm sweeps through Oregon

As Oregon battles the worst wildfires in living memory, more than half of the state’s National Guard helicopters are unavailable to help fight the fires as they are deployed in Afghanistan.

Helicopters are crucial tools in fighting large fires as they can efficiently move people and water about to help contain a blaze.

The Oregon National Guard has a fleet of Black Hawks and CH-47 Chinooks, but the six Chinooks have all been in Afghanistan since May, Vice reports.

Equipped with large water buckets, the Chinooks have been used to fight forest fires in the state as recently as 2018.

However, in May the national guard unit sent 60 soldiers and all six Chinooks to Afghanistan. The heavy lift capabilities of the helicopters makes them perfect for the planned drawdown of troops in the country.

A Chinook can transport 44 people and carry a payload of 26,000 pounds, and is ideally suited to treacherous, high-altitude terrain.

Moving at 200mph, in firefighting they can douse large areas very quickly with up to 2,000 gallons of water — enough to cover 100m (328ft) on the ground

With 500,000 people having already evacuated, and 900,000 acres of forest already lost to the fire, the National Guard is relying on its smaller Black Hawks, five of which are equipped with bambi buckets with the sixth assigned to search and rescue.

While Black Hawks are faster, they can only carry 10 people and 2,600 pounds. Their buckets also only hold 600 gallons of water.

Chinooks are named after a tribe of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest whose lands lie on the border between Oregon and Washington.

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