HELENA – The United States Forest Service Air Tanker Base in Helena set several records this past weekend, including drops made in a single day.
Three air attack planes, two lead planes and seven air tankers have been utilizing the base to fight the North Hills Fire.
From Friday through Sunday, tankers dropped around 440,000 gallons of fire retardant, with 68 loads carrying 231,000 gallons being dropped on Sunday alone.
The fleet of air tankers is comprised of two Single-Engine Air Tankers (SEATs), four Large Air Tankers (LATs) and DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT).
The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Aviation Center made significant upgrades to the Tanker Base over the last year. The base received wider plumbing, new pumps, two 25,000 tanks of liquid concentrate and one 25,000 gallon off-load tank.
Due to the proximity to the fire and the new tanker base upgrades, the DC-10 VLAT was able to load, make a drop and reload in under a half hour.
“This is really why we did the upgrades,” said Kathy Bushnell, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Public Affairs officer. “We’re able to support these larger aircraft and all the other aircraft in a timely manner. That will help the efficiency and all of the work that’s going on the ground.”
The air tankers only make drops when requested by fire teams on the ground.
The planes are unable to make drops at night due to safety concerns.
The USFS also stresses the importance of not flying any drones near any wildlands fire. If a drone is spotted, the planes and helicopters are required to cease operations until the drone is gone.