As unprecedented fires sweep across the west coast of the United States, Oregon’s best firefighting helicopters are unavailable because they have been deployed to the war in Afghanistan.
The Oregon National Guard is currently using four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to search for survivors and to drop water on some of the worst areas, but six of the state’s largest firefighting helicopters, the CH-47 Chinooks, are being used by the Department of Defense for military missions in Afghanistan.
Chinook helicopters can transport 44 people and carry up to 26,000 pounds, which makes them perfect for situations like this. With A Chinook helicopter, firefighters can drop up to 2,000 gallons of water in one trip, which is enough to cover an area of roughly 328ft.
By comparison, the black hawk helicopters that are currently being used can only carry about 10 people or 2,600 pounds and their buckets can only carry about 600 gallons of water.
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Chinook helicopters are named after a tribe of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest whose lands lie on the border between Oregon and Washington.
Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency this week, ordering everyone within range of the wildfires to evacuate as soon as possible.
“We know our losses are going to be great,” Brown said at a recent press conference.
For the past week, residents of Oregon and California have shared intense photos and videos of bright red or orange skies. The smoke has caused unhealthy breathing conditions for most of California, according to air quality monitors.
Sadly, these fires may be burning for quite a while. At least eight of Oregon’s wildfires are expected to burn “until the winter’s rains fall,” Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief Doug Grafe said Friday.
Oregon Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said that the state is preparing for a “mass fatality incident.”
IMAGE FEATURED: Akhararat Wathanasing