The Big Chinook Helicopter from Billings was used on the Washakie Park Fire west of Fort Washakie. Wyotoday photo by Ernie Over

Contracted Chinook Helicopter Helped Cool the Washakie Park Fire

With the wildland fire 10 miles west of Fort Washakie now at 70 percent containment and the week ending rains dowsing most of the active fire, what is left today is mop up of smoldering and creeping fire in the perimeter’s interior. 

One of the tools used by firefighters to knock down the active fire was a Type 1 Chinook Helicopter from Billings, on contract with the Forest Service and stationed during at Riverton’s Central Wyoming Regional Airport for the duration of the fire.

The big helicopter was outfitted with a very large tank for water in the interior of the craft. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, “Type 1 helicopters are the largest, fastest flying and the most expensive helicopters used on wildland fires. They can typically carry 700 gallons of water or retardant via a bucket or a snorkel that fills an internal tank. These helicopters can strategically drop thousands of gallons of water or retardant with pinpoint accuracy, while working closely with ground personnel and other firefighting aircraft.”

The big helicopter from Billings has a snorkel to suck up water from any water source, which is then dropped on hot spots in a fire from a belly dump. 

Tending to the aircraft Sunday in Riverton were Kayce Andersen and Garrett Leed. Andersen gave this reporter a tour inside the big helicopter including the cockpit. The team travels with a large trailer that contains parts that might be needed for the craft, plus a fueling trailer and other support equipment. Leed, a mechanic, is the fellow who kept the big craft, named “Big Kahuna” in good mechanical operation. Anderson, who is a pilot of an Army Air Guard Blackhawk, said she flies the big Chinook when not on  assignment with the Guard. “Otherwise, I’m limited to the Blackhawk when I’m on Guard duty.” 

The Billings-based team was killing time on Sunday, as the helicopter was not needed that day since the late week rains cooled down the fire. One pilot was watching football on his cell phone, another was reading a book and a third was walking out to greet me. “We’re waiting to hear when we’ll be discharged from the scene,” Andersen said. “Then we’ll go back to Billings and wait for the next assignment.”

WyoToday Photos by Ernie Over