A wet summer has kept wildfires down this year, but fire season is far from over. Colorado’s Division of Fire and Prevention Control knows fighting fires is not just a day job, so they’re using tools to work into the night.
“Flying is an inherent risk,” said Vince Welbaum, the DFPC’s aviation chief. “To add these additional tools to the toolbox, if you will, adds some risk.”
Welbaum says fighting fires at night has its advantages. Winds can calm down and conditions can improve overnight, “While the relative humidity goes up and the temperatures goes down.”
The division now has two medium-sized helicopters. Each can seat nine. They are stationed in Canon City and Montrose and are ready to be deployed at any given time – to anywhere in the state.
“We support every county in the state of Colorado,” he said.
The pilot wears night-vision goggles. The crew can get close to places often impossible to reach otherwise, dropping water or lowering crew to the ground.
“We can do what we call hover-step,” he said, “We hover over a location that we may not be able to land in, and we can actually step out of the helicopter. The helicopter takes off and they have their gear with them, and they can actually go to work.”
Welbaum says these fire-fighting tools are absolutely an asset, but helicopters like these are not cheap.
“In order to have more helicopters, you’ve got to have more funding to do so,” he said.
He hopes after more flights and extinguishing more fires, the funding will follow and the fleet will grow.
KRDO Only 2019