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Utah Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crews to battle California wildfires

Posted at 12:44 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 14:44:40-04

WEST JORDAN, Utah — With wildfires still raging in northern California, help is pouring in from around the country, including from here in Utah.

Two Utah Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crews left from airport number two in West Jordan Thursday morning.

It’s something the crews practice and prepare for on a regular basis.

With a crew of nine soldiers, the Blackhawks will be heavily involved in dropping water on fires that have already torched hundreds of thousands of acres and put tens of thousands of homes in harm’s way.

“Service is paramount,” said Lt. Colonel Jeremy Tannahill. “That’s why we do what we do.”

A basic task of any Blackhawk is to sling load army gear and equipment. These two choppers will now transition to hoisting huge buckets of water which the pilots will then drop on wildfire hotspots.

“Not many helicopters can lift a bucket of water weighing about 4,000 pounds,” Sgt. Zach Kesler said. “The helicopter we have is special, it has some unique capabilities.”

It’s risky business but these soldiers say they are more than up for the challenge.

“Flames, smoke, steep, rugged terrain, hot summer temperatures, high altitude -- all of those things factor in to the performance of the aircraft and it just makes it that much more risky,” Kesler added.

Just last week a pilot died after his helicopter crashed while helping fight these wildfires and that is definitely on the minds of those who are deploying.

But these soldiers say that will not deter them from their mission, if anything, it will make them even more careful.

“So there’s no complacency for sure, we understand the risks and they’re there,” Tannahill said. “But we’re ready, we work hard to be ready.”

The Blackhawks will arrive in northern California sometime Thursday evening and after a couple days of training they will be deployed to the front lines.

They’re expected to be there about two weeks.