National Guard Works Overtime As Grass Fires Ravage Green Country

Sunday, April 10th 2011, 9:53 pm
By: News On 6

 Emily Baucum, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- In a war zone, Black Hawk helicopters are used on scout missions and to move troops.  Here at home, they're also on the front lines when prairies and neighborhoods become battlefields.

What may surprise you the most, crews say the choppers are manned by people you see every day.

"All of a sudden you'd see 50-foot flames and then it would be back down to grass fields," said SkyNews6 Pilot Will Kavanagh.

Will Kavanagh pilots SkyNews6 to give you a bird's eye view of anything from traffic jams to severe storms and lately, grass fires.

"A dream job is what I have there," Kavanagh said.

But he also flies Black Hawks for the National Guard.

"I was going to be at that fire one way or the other," he said.

When flames threatened homes in Cleveland, Kavanagh got pulled from the news team to the fire team.

"To protect this state is our first job as National Guard," said Oklahoma National Guard Sergeant. Chris Bowling.

Black Hawks teams circled the 1,500-acre monster for two days, pouring thousands of gallons of water on homes in the line of fire.

"It may take us a couple runs to get a good line on the fire because we've got to adjust the aircraft and the dump for the winds," Bowling said.

The persistent power of the fire forced the Black Hawks to pull double duty.

"Because of how close it was getting to some homes, we were getting right in line with the major parts of the fire and putting as much water down as we could on the big part of the flames," Bowling said.

The vantage point from above reveals the big picture: homeowners on the ground, watching, waiting, and praying their homes are still standing.

"It bothers us when we lose. We don't like to lose to fire," Kavanagh said.

Combine long hours in the sky -- sometimes days on end -- with extremely hot and windy conditions, it's a dangerous job.

The crews need to stay hydrated and often inhale a lot of smoke. When the fire danger is high, eight crews are on rotation to make sure everyone gets time off.

Related Stories:

04/10/2011 Cleveland, Oklahoma Resident Loses 'Everything' In Fire
04/09/2011 Residents Flee As Wildfire Burns Homes Near Cleveland, Oklahoma
04/07/2011 Who Activates National Guard Helicopters For Oklahoma Wildfires?