129th Rescue Wing continues fighting Rim Fire

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Air National guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing have performed more than 400 bucket drops resulting in over 188,000 gallons of water dropped since they began fighting the Rim Fire August 20.

Wildfires raging in Tuolumne County continue to threaten lives, property and critical infrastructure.  Two HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and aircrews have been actively battling the Rim Fire since August 20. The Airmen continue to fly out of the Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, Calif., to support the state’s wildfire response efforts.

The 129th RW is the only ANG unit certified to perform aerial firefighting with water bucket drops.  The wing’s HH-60G rescue helicopters are uniquely configured with interagency radios and collapsible water buckets attached to the bottom of helicopters that use a valve to release 500 gallons of water on the fire below.

"Our HH-60G rescue helicopter crews continue to perform precision airdrops of water to help contain one of the biggest California wildfires in recent memory," said Col. Steven J. Butow, the 129th Rescue Wing Commander. "The adaptability of the wing to save lives in combat, or fight wildfires in the homeland, demonstrates the flexibility of the Guard to perform both federal and state missions."

The same 129th’s HH-60G helicopters and crews fighting the Rim Fire today were providing combat search and rescue support to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan less than three months ago.  The wing also provides life-saving rescue in the East Pacific beyond the range of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Butow attributes the wing’s rapid deployment and sustained high operations tempo to the dedication and expertise of an all-volunteer maintenance and support force who selflessly contribute behind the scenes to support their fellow Airmen and the community.

As of this Aug. 28, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported that the Rim Fire has burned 187, 566 acres and is only 23 percent contained, making it one of the largest wildfires in California history.

“The awesomeness of the fires could be seen from our helicopter in the plumes of smoke they made … the fire consumed everything in its path,” said Staff Sgt. Edward Drew, a 129th Rescue Wing aircrew member onboard one of the HH-60G firefighting helicopters.

Last year, the 129th RW dropped approximately 250,000 gallons of water on wildfires across California over the course of 20 straight days of firefighting.  In addition to fighting wildfires, the 129th RW performs combat search and rescue support, and personnel recovery support in the state, resulting in more than 1,000 lives saved, with more than 600 of those rescues performed stateside since its inception in 1977.

(Information courtesy of 129th Rescue Wing Public Affairs)