HELENA (AP) – In a fire season plagued by equipment shortages, Montana's five firefighting helicopters have been sidelined from attacking blazes on federal lands.
The issue is the 324-gallon buckets used to scoop and drop water from the modified Vietnam-era Bell UH-1 Hueys purchased from military surplus.
State Forester Bob Harrington said Monday the U.S. Forest Service notified the state in 2014 of a policy requiring that helicopters of that type to carry buckets 100 gallons smaller.
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Harrington says modifications have increased the helicopters' power to allow them to carry the larger buckets. He says the helicopters regularly respond to wildfires on state and private land, and state officials will not allow pilots to fly under two different protocols.
The Forest Service said in a statement the specifications required "provide an industry recognized margin of safety."