Several different aircraft are performing different jobs related to fighting and monitoring the Decker Fire. Six helicopters are stationed at Salida’s Harriet Alexander Field.
There are three Type 1, one Type 2 and two Type 3 helicopters assigned to the fire. The type refers to carrying capacity.
A Type 1 helicopter can carry 5,000 pounds, 15 passengers or 7,000 gallons of retardant or water. A Type 2 helicopter can carry 2,500 pounds, 9-14 passengers or 300 gallons of retardant or water. A Type 3 helicopter can carry 1,200 pounds, 4-8 passengers or 100 gallons of retardant or water, according to Decker Fire public information officer Jonathan Ashford.
Each helicopter’s load is based on the helicopter’s capacity and the temperature. The helicopters don’t carry passengers if they also have a load.
Ashford said there are a number of different dip sites around the fire to fill buckets for water drops, but the team must have prior agreements with the owners of the water rights, Ashford said.
Sonya Straka, who is managing the helicopter operation, said they try for bucket drops in areas where firefighters can add to that work.
The helicopters have also been used to transport firefighters, Straka said, delivering them to the lines to minimize hiking time.
Michael Garcia, who is managing the ground operations for the helicopter fleet, said it’s important that private drones don’t fly over the fire. He said a drone strike on a helicopter would be “catastrophic.”
Pilots don’t fly more than eight hours a day, Garcia said. There is always one helicopter on call for a medevac, he said.
The helicopter operation includes local personnel all the way up to federal employees, Straka said.
The team has also utilized two large air tankers, flying out of Jefferson County and Grand Junction, to put in retardant lines on the north side of the fire between Boot Hill and the fire’s edge and on the west side of the fire along Bear Creek Road.
In addition, an Boise-based infrared-equipped airplane has been taking measurements of the fire, and a multimission aircraft based in Denver has been flying over the fire to check on it.