County's Helicopter Dip Site Project Sees First Use


For the past few months, Gila County officials, local fire departments, the United States Forest Service, and a number of other agencies have been meeting weekly, planning strategies and looking for ways to meet the anticipated challenges of this year's wildfire season. A component of this preparation has been the placement of emergency water dip sites for helicopter buckets, supplied by 20,000-gallon water storage bladder tanks. These dip site/storage bladder locations, which were the brain child of Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin, were paid for and installed by Gila County at six locations in wildfire-prone areas in the northern portions of the county, allowing helicopters to refill their "Bambi buckets" and get more water drops on the fire quicker, with minimal turnaround time.

On Friday, May 26, the first day of Memorial Day weekend, the dip sites were tested for the first time. A human-caused wildfire started on Hardscrabble Mesa, southwest of Pine, and Gila County's dip site project saw its first test. An out-of-town U.S. Forest Service fire crew, California's El Dorado Hotshots, were familiarizing themselves with the Pine area when they saw a small column of smoke in the distance. They reported it to the USFS Phoenix Dispatch and headed toward the "new start." Numerous Forest Service units from throughout the area were dispatched, including Helicopter 323, based at the Payson Airport. The helicopter crew had just completed a familiarization tour of the dip site locations a few days earlier, and when arriving firefighters requested helicopter bucket drops, the crew knew the new dip site/storage bladder location on the Randall Property in Pine was nearby. They headed there immediately and made four trips back and forth to the fire, knocking down the the blaze and allowing ground crews to control it at .3 of an acre. When advised that the dip site project had seen its first use, Martin said,"I knew it would work." And quoting a line from the "A Team" television show, she added, "I love it when a plan comes together."

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