RENO, NV - One year ago this week, local firefighters gained a new tool for suppressing wildfires. The Washoe County Sheriff Department's Raven helicopter was equipped and approved to fight wildfires.
There are actually three Raven helicopters. The Bell Kiowa on display this week at a law enforcement aviation conference at the convention center and one like it are equipped for search and rescue with infrared cameras and a huge spotlight to aid officers on the ground.
Raven 3 wasn't there today. It was on duty standing ready to respond to a wildfire. It is outfitted with a 300 plus gallon belly tank and a year ago was certified for use fighting wildfires on BLM land.
It was a new mission for the Huey and its pilots with unique challenges.
"It's a real high work load environment for the pilot," says chief pilot Doug Russell. "You're operating a helicopter at close to its maximum gross weight at high altitude, hot temperatures over a fire," "and fires produce their own weather, so it makes it even more difficult."
Raven has been a welcome addition to firefighting efforts in western Nevada and has already proven itself. There are limitations, however. It was not, for instance, used in the recent Pinehaven Fire above Caughlin Ranch.
"There was some question about jurisdiction of the fire," explains Russell. "We're not yet carded for forest service fires. We are approved for BLM fires however.
So, with it approved for use on most public lands in Washoe County, Raven 3 and its pilots figure to be busy in the weeks ahead.
"All the predictions are this has the potential for being the worst year for fires in 30 years. So it's going to be a busy year."