Friday, September 11, 2015

State helicopters won't fight federal forest fires this year

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials say Montana has a safe aviation program, but it is unlikely the state's five firefighting helicopters will be used to respond to blazes on U.S. Forest Service lands this year.

The five modified Bell UH-1H helicopters have been barred from responding to fires in the state's national forests because federal standards require that those helicopters use smaller buckets to scoop water.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock objected to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, prompting a review by federal aviation experts last week.

The review found the Montana Department of Natural Resources' aviation program to be safe, but now the agencies must determine how the standards can be broadened to allow the helicopters' use.

DNRC director John Tubbs says he believes that will be resolved before next year's fire season.


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