Forestry, Fire and State Lands Expands Wildfire Aviation Program

SALT LAKE (May 29, 2024) – The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands is expanding its wildfire aviation program to include a helitack program to better assess and address active wildfires within the state. The new crew will be called the Diamond Fork Helitack and stationed at the Spanish Fork Airport.

“Adding this helitack crew is the next logical step in expanding our aviation capabilities within the Division,” said Mike Melton, Deputy State Fire Management Officer for Aviation. “This is our third contracted helicopter. Adding this aircraft and crew augments our heavy lift aircraft capabilities by getting boots on the ground quickly into inaccessible areas as well as the wildland-urban interface.” 

The helitack crew will be available during the summer and made up of eight wildland firefighters who will assist with initial attack – the first course of action taken by the first firefighters to aggressively extinguish the fire. This module will be stationed in Spanish Fork and be an available resource for the entire state.

Helitack crew members are highly skilled and qualified firefighters transported to wildfires by helicopter, enabling crews to respond quickly and engage an active fire. The aircraft can deliver crew members near a wildfire and improve response time during the initial attack phase. 

In anticipation of the active summer months, the state has contracted with Mountain West Helicopter in Provo, Utah, to provide the aircraft for the crew. The Type 3 helicopter can also be fashioned with a water bucket to perform water drops to aid suppression efforts. 

When not directly engaged in fire suppression, the aircraft can also transport equipment to the fire line and aid firefighting crews with logistical support. 

Aircraft are critical tools in managing wildland fires. Although aircraft are often used to fight wildfires, aircraft alone cannot put them out. Firefighters rely on planes and helicopters to:

  • Deliver equipment and supplies.
  • Transport firefighters.
  • Provide reconnaissance of new fires, fire locations, and fire behavior. 
  • Drop fire retardant or water to slow a fire so firefighters can contain it.

The current contract will run for five years and provide the state with an aircraft for 120 days each year, which FFSL can extend if there is high fire activity in the state. The contract also states that the helicopter will stay in Utah and can’t be used out of state without prior approval from state officials.

The helitack crew became available this year to assist with fire suppression activities on May 20th.

The new helitack program will become an available resource on May 15th in years two through five of the contract.