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Sunday, July 15, 2012

California Fire News: National Guard, battles Robbers Fire by air

  California Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk refills its 660-gallon “Bambi” bucket in the American River, July 14, during the Robbers Fire in Placer County, Calif. The California Army National Guard worked with Cal Fire to control the fire by dropping thousands of gallons of water, in addition to providing medical evacuation support.
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The California Army National Guard answered the call to serve its citizens in Placer County during the Robbers wildfires in July.

Five California Army National Guard helicopters assisted the California Department of Forest and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) through dropping thousands of gallons of water on the fire and providing medical evacuation support.

As of July 15, 20 percent of the fire had been contained. More than 2,250 acres had burned as of Sunday evening, with one home destroyed. The fire started July 11.

On July 13, Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. activated four UH-60 Black Hawks and a HH-60 MEDEVAC helicopter to assist Cal Fire.

Two UH-60s and an HH-60 flew out of Mather Army Aviation Support Facility, and two UH-60s from Los Alamitos Army Airfield supported the effort against the Robbers fire. The Black Hawks conducted water bucket drop operations, with the HH-60 providing medical evacuation support.

“The California Army National Guard brings a specialized set of skills, assets and personnel to Robbers that allows us to focus on fighting the fire,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Miklos, a platoon leader and an HH-60 pilot for Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion).

“We’ve had a lasting relationship with Cal Fire,” said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Brockly, operations officer and senior instructor pilot. “We are at Cal Fire’s beck and call. Once we receive a call from them, we have our birds in the air in five to 10 minutes.”

“The California Army National Guard Soldiers are trained very well and it feels really good that they’re focused on fulfilling the mission,” said David Ito, a Cal Fire captain and agency aviation military liaison. “They’re an outstanding resource for the citizens of California and Cal Fire.”

The helicopter crews are putting in 14-hour duty days, with eight of those hours in the sky.

The Robbers fire is hitting home for some who are helping out in the effort.

“I grew up in the hills of Placerville and worked for Auburn State Park, so I’m honored to be a part of this,” said Miklos. “It’s pretty awesome to get to help out your neighbors.”

Before the start of the fire season, the California Army National Guard and Cal Fire conduct a range of training from bucket drops to radio communications, for new and current team members, said Brockly. A requirement for pilots is 500 hours of aircraft commander time.

“The stress that’s involved in flying in combat translates into fighting fires as most pilots have been in combat at least once or twice,” said Brockly of pilots being as prepared as possible to handle Robbers.

“You train so much that it’s instinctive, it’s muscle memory, and that’s a good feeling,” said Miklos.

The California Army National Guard’s federal mission translates into its state mission through the common purpose of helping people, whether they are military service members or citizens of California, said Brockly.

“The Robbers fire is why we joined the Guard,” said Brockly. “It gives us the opportunity to serve our own country and state.”

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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