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Connecticut resources helping combat historic western wildfires

COVID is complicating things even more

HAMPTON, Connecticut — As wildfires continue to rage out west, Connecticut isn’t immune to their impact. And as we confront our own drought conditions, local wild fires are popping up across the state. Fire officials say mind your campfires, make sure you get a permit if you are burning and don’t flick your cigarette out the window.

Out west, record setting wildfires are being doused from above thanks to the Firehawk helicopter which is designed and manufactured at Sikorsky in Stratford, Connecticut. Sikorsky Firehawk sales manager Matt Swisher said, "All of the men and women working in CT working to put this product out is a huge contributor to the fight here out west." Right now five Firehawk helicopters are in Los Angeles, one is in San Diego and three are with the California division of forestry. "Using a 1,000 gallon underbelly fixed water tank so we can drop 1,000 gallons at a time so we can snorkel up that 1,000 gallons in 45 seconds and the speed of the fire hawk really makes it an effective firefighting tool," said Swisher.

Back here locally, Connecticut’s own forestry division has been busy. Fire Control Officer Rich Schenk took us into the woods of East Brooklyn where a homeless person’s camp fire still smolders. "You notice the evenings and morning are a little chilly. They are starting fries warm themselves and cook and those fires are spreading into the ground and starting to pop up and escape containment," said Schenk. Another wildfire is smoldering deep in the woods of Dayville. It started the same way. "Were in that danger because it’s been a long time without rain."

Connecticut is helping with boots on the ground out west too. Shenck told FOX61, 10 firefighters have been deployed deep in the remote California canyons. They are barely sleeping to battle the historic flames and COVID is complicating things even more. "Typically our large fire camps may have 1,000 plus people and we would feed them all together and house them in tents in the same location. It’s easy for briefing the crews and getting them to work and do their job but with COVID we can’t operate that way."

COVID is also putting the spotlight on air quality in CT. Tracy Babbidge is the Air Program Bureau Chief for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. She said, "Due to the COVID pandemic I think awareness has been raised about the link between air quality and respiratory considerations." And she told us that while the jet stream is keeping particles from the western wildfires from affecting our air quality, it is impacting visibility. "You can see visibly there are visible emissions. We are noticing at night there is a milkyness."

And with Sikorsky helping out west with the fire hawks, it’s also worth mentioning that another one of our defense contractors, Pratt & Whitney, has their Connecticut made engines in many of the other aircraft helping in the fight.