Helena plays a key role in aerial fire suppression efforts

DC10 Tanker.png
Posted at 5:17 PM, Jul 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-27 11:51:30-04

HELENA — The United States Forest Service fire tanker base at Helena Regional Airport helps to fight wildfires all over the west.

“We have a base here because it is considered central in the Northern Rockies, and we’re able to kinda access where the prime fires are,” said Chiara Cipriano, the spokesperson for Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest.

The base has been operational since 2003 and is capable of handling every type of air tanker in operation in the United States. From single-engine air tankers to very large air tankers, or VLATS, like the DC10.

 R.K. Smithey captains one of the four DC10s.

"We carry 94 hundred gallons of fire retardant, we are on standby here ready to go to a fire call,” Smithey said.

It takes only 18 minutes to fully fill a DC10 with retardant at the base.

“About a two-and-half-hour range of fuel and as soon as a call comes in the base will load retardant and we’ll head for the fire,” said Smithley.

As fire season gets underway, Smithey warns the public to be mindful of where they are flying drones and to stay away from any active fire areas.

“Also, in the fire traffic area it’s really important that people don’t bring drones in because we can’t jeopardize are airplane potentially sucking drone into a motor,” Smithley said.

If there is a drone in the area, they are unable to fly in the area or help the ground firefighters.

“If we see drones in the fire traffic area, we actually have to vacate the area and land which unfortunately prevents us from doing our jobs, and most importantly helping the firefighters on the ground,” said Smithley.