Newsletter #226 | News
Aviators: Drought dries up water resources for wildland firefighting
After four years of drought many U.S. state and federal agencies, including the Nevada National Guard, are literally running out of water to fight wildland fires.
US Army, September 22, 2015 - INCLINE VILLAGE, Nevada by Tech Sgt Emerson Marcus – After four years of drought many state and federal agencies — including the Nevada National Guard — are literally running out of water to fight wildland fires.
From reports of Lake Tahoe’s lowest snow-pack on record to the Colorado River’s worst reported drought in history, the entire state feels the effects. Nevada’s 16 counties are designated drought disaster areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Additionally, the drought also affects aerial firefighting.
“A lot of the dip sites for picking up water we have used or could use in the past (reservoirs, lakes, rivers) are no longer there because they’ve dried up due to the drought,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen Nielsen, pilot at the Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility in Stead.
That means aviators in the Nevada Guard and the Nevada Division of Forestry are adapting to firefighting missions in a time of severe drought.
“Just take Washoe Lake,” said Scott Rasmussen, NDF state fire program manager. “It’s dry. Others will probably be way down if not completely dry. A lot of the rivers, like the Carson River, are dry, and we won’t be able to dip there. We may have to start looking at different options.”
For example, NDF has the capability to pump water from low-standing sources into portable pools, or “pumpkins,” to pick up and drop on fire lines.
The Guard’s buckets include pumps that can fill the buckets to capacity when the pumps are submerged in at least 18 inches of water. Those bucket pumps are being used more in drought conditions this year. much of the firefighting this summer has occurred to Nevada's west in California where Nevada Guard aviators have deployed for firefighting missions.
In Nevada, where more than 80 percent of the land is federal, much of the state’s firefighting occurs outside state firefighting jurisdiction. But, as NDF State Forester Bob Roper says, “Fires do not respect jurisdictional lines.”
In Nevada, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management have air tankers stationed at four air tanker bases around the state (Minden, Stead and Battle Mountain Airport; southern Nevada is served by the air tanker base at Cedar City, Utah). Along with state assets, interagency sharing of aircraft and resources becomes increasingly imperative, Rasmussen said.
NDF — the state’s first line of response in wildland fires — has three Huey helicopters in its fleet. The Nevada National Guard, a supplemental force that works in conjunction with NDF after activation from the governor, has seven UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and seven CH-47 Chinooks stationed at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Stead. Many of the Guard’s aircraft have deployed to Afghanistan in recent years, but both the 1/168th and 1/189th General Support Aviation Battalions units headquartered in Stead are not set for combat deployments this summer for the first time in several years.
“You get busy fire seasons with only so many assets allocated around the West, but dependent on how many fires there are you need a reserve force to call from and that’s where we come in,” Nielsen said.
“We have a very good relationship with the Guard,” Rasmussen said. “It’s worked well for years. Hopefully it will continue.”
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Nevada National Guard US Army Aviation