Some of Oregon's Helicopters That Would Be Used to Fight Wildfires Are Deployed to Afghanistan

Six of the military helicopters operated by the Oregon National Guard are unavailable to help fight the wildfires currently raging throughout the state because they were sent to Afghanistan earlier this year.

The CH-47 Chinook helicopters, which can be used to perform aerial water drops during wildfires, traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, for training in May along with an estimated 60 members of the Oregon National Guard's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment. The six aircraft were deployed to Afghanistan after training, where they remained for overseas missions on Thursday, Director of Public Affairs Stephen Bomar with the Oregon Military Department told Newsweek.

When the mission was first announced, the aircraft were expected to help troops replenish supplies in Afghanistan and transport equipment, according to a May news release.

Holiday Farm Fire in Oregon
A burned house is seen after the passing of the Holiday Farm fire in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, on September 9, 2020. “We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state," Oregon Governor Kate Brown said on Thursday. TYEE BURWELL/AFP via Getty Images

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Defense for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Though the CH-47 Chinooks are not currently available to assist with firefighting efforts, Bomar said the Oregon Military Department is using seven other military aircraft—including Black Hawks—to fight the blazes. Two of the helicopters are assisting with search and rescue efforts, four are providing aerial water drops through the use of Bambi Buckets—which can launch anywhere between 72 and 2,600 gallons per drop, depending on the sizes of the buckets used—and a UH-72 Lakota is helping officials keep track of the fires' progress.

All seven of the military aircraft have been available to help with wildfire fighting, tracking and rescue efforts since Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to heightened wildfire weather conditions on August 19, Bomar said.

"They have dropped more than 22,000 gallons of water since first being activated," Bomar said of the military aircraft in use, adding that other firefighting agencies throughout the state are also providing aerial support. A total of 375 Oregon National Guard members who were trained to help firefighters earlier this summer are assisting with on-the-ground efforts as well, Bomar said.

Military aircraft like the CH-47 Chinook and the UH-72 Lakota are often called in to help battle domestic wildfires. In addition to its water carrying capacity—Bomar told Newsweek it can move 2,000 gallons of water at once—the CH-47 Chinook can also transport civilians in need of rescue. According to The Military Times, the California Military Department helped evacuate more than 200 people during a wildfire last week with the use of a CH-47 Chinook.

As wildfires continued raging in California on Thursday, so too did they continue burning in Oregon. According to a statewide wildfire database, there were 37 active fires in Oregon as of Thursday afternoon, and Brown said during a news conference on Thursday that nearly 900,000 acres have burned so far.

Oregon has reported an average of 500,000 acres burned by wildfires each year since 2010, the governor said. "We've seen that nearly double in the last three days," Brown said.

Officials instructed between 30,000 and 40,000 Oregonians to evacuate in recent days due to the wildfires, and some fatalities have been reported, though Brown said officials can not yet confirm the number of fatalities or the identities of the deceased.

"We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state," Brown said.

Updated 9/10 at 6:36 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to include details on the CH-47 Chinook's water carrying capacity.