In just the first three to four months of 2017, an increase in wildfires has left the Sunshine State of Florida in need of Helicopter Express’ aerial firefighting services. Earlier this month, Governor Scott issued a state of emergency due to more than 100 active wildfires across the state threatening about 20,000 acres of land. That’s 250% more land burn in Florida than the state had in the same timeframe the previous year.
Since the first part of April, Helicopter Express has sent four helicopters to the various location within the state. Two aircrafts are in southern Florida in the Everglades area, one at Merritt Island near Cape Canaveral and one at the Okefenokee Swamp.
The West Mims Fire, believed to have been started by a lightning strike on April 6, has burned nearly 126 square miles of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (or about one fifth of its 400,000-acre). Only a small percentage of the fire is contained.
Firefighters from Florida and Georgia have joined forces to battle the massive wildfire. More than 505 firefighters and support personnel are working to keep the fire from escaping the refuge and burning private land, including the aerial firefighting assistance of Helicopter Express, 17 engines, five bulldozers, 27 tractor plows and one hot-shot crew.
A brush fire in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge grew to 500 acres on Friday, April 17. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a park visitor’s pickup truck caught fire while outside the public boundary started the wildfire that was then fueled by dry brush and persistent winds. Seven fire crews on the ground and a Helicopter Express aircraft have battled the blaze as smoke from the fire filled the skies around the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
A growing brush fire in South Florida destroyed buildings and forced thousands of people from their homes as emergency crews from across the state scrambled to beat back the blaze. In addition to employing the assistance of two Helicopter Express aircraft, the forestry service brought in 14 bulldozers, 20 brush fire trucks, 16 engines, as well as a few additional planes and helicopters. Crews have strengthened fire lines and the evacuations were able to be lifted.
Meanwhile, crews farther east in Collier County are gaining the upper-hand on the wildfire in the Big Cypress National Preserve. That’s where the Cowbell Fire has burned nearly 22,000 acres and is 75% contained. The fire has been burning for several weeks near Alligator Alley, and a mandatory evacuation order remains in effect for several campgrounds in the preserve. Our contract in this area has been extended until the mission is complete.
Our crews are still working these fires a couple hours a day and performing bucket work as needed. We wish the people of Florida the best and will do everything we can to assure their continued safety and to maintain the integrity of the Florida landscape.
*photo of HX helicopter by Naples Daily News