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Helicopters were first used on wildland fires in 1947. Fire managers recognized the value of helicopters to rapidly transport personnel and cargo to a fire, especially in remote locations.

L-R. Large heavy-lift helicopter, helicopter with a bambi bucket making a water drop, Prescott Rappellers rappelling down from a helicopter, and a large helicopter dipping into a water pumpkin on the Las Conchas Fire.  Photos courtesy of Kari Greer and The Prescott RappellersHelicopters are versatile fire management tools. They can be fitted with tanks or buckets to deliver water and fire retardant to the fireline. Large, heavy-lift helicopters can fill their water tanks with a snorkel that siphons water from lakes, rivers, or other sources. Smaller helicopters carry water in buckets that hold between 100-400 gallons of water. Each bucket has a release valve on the bottom controlled by the helicopter crew. When the helicopter is in position, the crew releases the water to extinguish hot spots.

Helicopters also deliver firefighting crews called helitack crews to fires for initial attack. Some helitack crews are trained to rappel from helicopters to fires in remote locations. All Forest Service helicopter operations follow Federal Aviation Administration and interagency standards, policies, and safety procedures.