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Inside the Gates: Alaska Army National Guard ready to help battle wildfires if needed

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 9:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Firefighters continue to battle the Munson Creek Fire near Chena Hot Springs, and several other wildfires across the state.

A Wednesday update from the Alaska Division of Forestry reported flames from the Munson Creek Fire have burned more than 41,000 acres.

The Alaska Army National Guard has not been called in to help, but it’s ready to assist if needed, according to a June 10 press release from the Alaska National Guard.

Members of the Alaska Army National Guard 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment fly UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters. They would use them to haul water to battle wildfires. That regiment partook in an annual Red Card certification on June 9, during which members dropped water from buckets over rural areas of the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson installment, the release states.

Alaska guard members have to obtain this certification to assist with wildfires on federal land, or fires that are are federally managed, according to the press release. They also need it to transport federal agency personnel.

“Some of these fires are big,” said 1st Lt. Cody McKinney, the deputy Army Aviation Officer. “When you see a fire taking a house, or structures, we feel that every time.”

According to McKinney, the Chinook helicopters can carry up to 2,000 gallons of water in one trip, and the the Black Hawks can handle 900 gallons.

But, getting the water from lakes and rivers to the fire can be challenging.

“When you’re pulling water from (an) inlet, the water’s going to try and pull you out with it,’ he said. “Dipping from a river, you might have to pull water going upriver.”

Members of the guard will use their training from the recent certification exercise when they respond to wildfires on state and federal land.

“Anytime you’re dealing with a fire in the state, there’s multiple agencies in there that create layers of complexity when you’re trying to fight a fire,” McKinney said. “It’s important we work with all those assets and try and get involved so we’re helping, instead of creating more of a problem when we get on those fires.”

The Alaska Army National Guard says it has not responded to any wildfires in Alaska so far this year.

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