SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
On March 30, 2016, a fire near the town of Tela, Honduras warranted a large scale reaction from Honduran firefighting forces, to include the National Fire Department, Army and Air Force.
The initial response involved Honduran ground and air assets working together in the Jeanette Kawas National Park working to contain the fire, however, due to dry conditions, shifting winds, and the dense vegetation at the location of the fire, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez requested U.S. support to assist in the effort to prevent the fire from quickly spreading throughout the park and potentially threatening local communities.
The JTF-Bravo air assets supplemented two Honduran UH-1N Huey helicopters, beginning March 31, with Bambi Buckets to carry water from the nearby lake, Laguna de Los Micos, to the fires and a hoist capability, in case a need to retrieve personnel on the ground arose.
During the operation, Honduran and U.S. command and control elements reviewed inputs from the ground forces and surveillance from air assets, to determine where the fire, which had split into three separate fires by March 31, needed the most attention.
"The team, consisting of Honduran and U.S. personnel and capabilities, conducted joint planning to continuously assess the situation and synchronize an effective, combined response to the fire - working as one to quickly gain control and extinguish the fires throughout the park," said COL Rob Harman, JTF-B Commander.
After the majority of the efforts wrapped up on March 31, only one fire still remained burning, though it was considered mostly under control by those on the ground.
"It's always a good feeling to use our training and resources when a real-world need arises," said Chief Warrant Officer Kyle Johnson, 1-228th Aviation Regiment CH-47 pilot. "It's not often we get to work side-by-side with our Honduran hosts in a situation like this, but this was an opportunity to work together on a common goal and everyone performed excellently."
Both teams suspended flight operations on the evening of March 31, due to potentially unsafe night flying conditions and crew-duty days, and would reassess the situation the following morning.
The next day, the team noticed that one of the fires, which was previously extinguished, had re-ignited, and they had to orient their efforts toward two fires on April 1.
"When the Hondurans sent their helicopter up to assess the fires, they discovered one of the fires they put out the day prior was ablaze again," said Lt. Col. Daniel Moore, 1-228th AVN commander and officer in charge of U.S. response forces on the ground. "We quickly went to work on refueling aircraft and putting them in the fight against the two blazes."
After continued operations on April 2nd, a joint assessment by Honduran Col. Barrientos, Air Force Chief of Staff met with Moore and concluded the fire was contained to the point that U.S. support was no longer required.
"It's satisfying and rewarding to see that our efforts resulted in total mission success," said Johnson.
During the time frame of three days the 1-228th AVN dropped over 390,000 gallons of water over the course of 55 hours flight time, earning thanks from President Hernandez, Ambassador Nealon and local community officials.