Two heavy-lift helicopters and 18 security teams from the Montana National Guard will join state and federal crews on the Lolo Creek Complex fires starting Thursday.

Gov. Steve Bullock ordered two UH-60 Black Hawks to help provide initial attack from the air, while 18 security teams will support civil authorities at established checkpoints.

“The Montana National Guard is trained and ready to immediately respond to emergencies such as these,” Bullock said in a Wednesday release. “We can rely on them to support Montanans who need their help.”

Bullock and Montana Adjutant Gen. Matthew Quinn met with state and federal officials Monday night in Missoula before touring the fire by air.

The blaze has since doubled in size and destroyed at least five homes across 8,600 acres.

At Monday’s emergency briefing, heads of the Lolo National Forest and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation stressed their need for additional resources on the fire.

“We have more fire on the landscape than we have resources,” Montana State Forester Bob Harrington told the governor. “We have more fire than we can handle right now, and this fire will likely be with us for several weeks.”

Bullock issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in 31 Montana counties. The move laid the groundwork to tap the Montana Guard for resources, including helicopters and personnel.

Maj. Tim Crowe, public information officer for the Montana Guard, said the Black Hawks and checkpoint crews will be stationed at the DNRC state land office in Missoula and will serve under the direction of the state agency.

Roughly 110 state soldiers will be assigned to the mission, including those from the 1-189th Aviation Battalion in Helena and members of the 1889th Reserve Support Group based in Butte.

“The Montana National Guard will begin the deployment process immediately and the soldiers will be placed on state active duty for up to 15 days,” Crowe said. “Plans for a rotation of replacement forces will be made, should the mission extend beyond 15 days.”

Crowe said the Guard’s aviation modules are trained in bucket work and ready to go. Checkpoint teams on the ground will assist civil authorities in providing security.

“They’re going to man the existing checkpoints that are currently manned by civil authorities,” Crowe said. “It allows for their resources to go out and do other missions.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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