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Guardsmen Battle Wildfires in Two States

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., July 13, 2009 – Guardsmen from Texas and Oklahoma assisted local firefighters over the weekend as they worked to extinguish wildfires about 20 miles east of Austin, Texas, and in Major County, Okla.

Soldiers from Texas’ 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment responded with two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters carrying 600-gallon “Bambi” buckets to help put out the flames, said Army Col. William Meehan, spokesman for the Texas National Guard.

A four-man Black Hawk crew from Oklahoma also responded to fires in their state, according to National Guard reports.

Over the course of the two-hour mission yesterday, soldiers in helicopters dropped 154 buckets or about 100,000 gallons of water on the blaze, Meehan said.

Responding to wildfires is nothing new for the Texas Guard.

“We have been doing this for so many years that it’s mostly second nature,” Meehan said.

The Guard also works with the Texas Forestry Service to assess where fire-fighting assets will be needed most. Because of that planning, aircraft are ready to go in strategic positions across the state.

“We have aircraft ready to go in Austin and San Antonio,” said Meehan, adding that aircraft can be pre-positioned almost anywhere in the state as the need arises.

While the most recent fire has been contained, the dry conditions in Texas most likely will continue.

“We have many areas of Texas that are bone dry,” Meehan said. “The state has asked us to be on standby as the [conditions have] actually gotten drier.”

That could mean a busy summer for the Texas Guard. “We expect a very long fire season,” Meehan said. “And it will go right up to hurricane season.

“We hope we’re not needed, but we’re ready to go if we are,” he said.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy serves in the National Guard Bureau.)

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