Mesa Verde Helitack performs first shorthaul firefighting operation on USFS land

Posted at 1:26 PM, Jul 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-05 15:26:30-04

DENVER – The Mesa Verde Interagency Helitack Crew became the first firefighters to perform a firefighting short-haul operation on U.S. Forest Service land on Saturday while working a small, remote fire in the La Plata Mountains.

The U.S. Forest Service approved using short-haul operations for firefighting just last year and put it into the 2022 Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations manual.

Short-haul involves dropping supplies or personnel from a helicopter at the bottom of a rope that is connected to the helicopter. Any wildland fire operation that involves a short-haul “must be approved by the appropriate agency national office,” the manual says.

Helitack crews and search and rescue crews have used short-haul operations for years to extricate injured people in the wilderness and to insert supplies, but typically insert and extricate firefighters in areas where the helicopters can land.

According to the San Juan National Forest, forest managers approved a short-haul to assess the Max Fire, which was one-tenth of an acre and burning in an area that was not close to roads or an ideal helicopter landing zone after it started with a lightning strike. The forest said managers determined short-haul would be “the best operational candidate.”

After dropping out of the helicopter, firefighters were able to quickly contain the fire, which then received rain, the national forest said.

“The firefighters were extricated using the same method, and they are now prepared for the next potential lightning start,” the San Juan National Forest said. “Thanks to Mesa Verde National Park and your helitack crew for your work containing the fire.”

Mesa Verde Helitack posted to Facebook: “Years of work and practice have made this day a possibility and success! We’re happy to have had the opportunity!”