Firefighter seriously hurt in helicopter water drop on N.M. wildfire

A member of the Vale Interagency Hotshot Crew has required surgeries to repair skull fractures and a broken kneecap


Matthew Reisen
Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A firefighter was seriously injured when a helicopter dropped a load of water on several members of a hotshot crew Sunday morning as they helped contain the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire.

The member of the Vale Interagency Hotshot Crew underwent multiple surgeries at an Albuquerque hospital to repair skull fractures and a broken kneecap, according to a preliminary report by the Bureau of Land Management.

In this file photo provided by the New Mexico National Guard, New Mexico National Guard Aviation soldiers execute water drops as part of efforts to stop the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire in northern New Mexico on May 1.
In this file photo provided by the New Mexico National Guard, New Mexico National Guard Aviation soldiers execute water drops as part of efforts to stop the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire in northern New Mexico on May 1. (New Mexico National Guard via AP)

Two other crew members were injured but treated and released that day.

BLM spokeswoman Allison Sandoval said the incident is under investigation.

The hotshot crew was among more than 3,000 personnel battling the fire, which has burned 315,838 acres and is 54% contained as of Wednesday. The U.S. Forest Service acknowledged this week that the wildfire — the largest in state history — is also the largest to ever come out of a prescribed burn.

The BLM report said the hotshot crew was holding a section of fire line around 10:30 a.m. in the Pecos Wilderness as helicopters dropped water loads on the fire's edge.

"When a helicopter missed the identified drop area, the last of the load was delivered on top of several crew members," the report states.

Three crew members were taken to a Santa Fe hospital before the member with severe injuries was brought to Albuquerque to undergo surgeries.

"The employee is still in the hospital, accompanied by family and his crew supervisor," the report dated Wednesday states.

Officials said crews continue to make headway in battling the blaze.

Kyle Cannon, operations section chief on the north end, said in a briefing Wednesday evening that they rode out four days of critical fire weather with no significant fire growth. He said with the winds set to shift, crews are prioritizing the northwest end of fire to keep flames from approaching Peñasco.

Fire Behavior Analyst Dan Pearson said the fire had only covered 3,000 acres in the past four days, compared with weeks ago when it was burning up to 30,000 acres a day. Then, he said, the fire was being driven by the weather as the area saw 29 days of critical fire weather out of 35.

"I don't need to tell you, it was a rough time," Pearson said.

He said now the weather has moderated and some precipitation is expected to move into the state. But not enough.

"You're probably wondering with all this rain — will it put the fire out?" Pearson said. "Simple answer, no, it won't."

He said a cumulative drought has kept the forests dry despite minimal precipitation. To put it into perspective, Pearson said a downed log would have to sit in a tub of water for more than 40 days to moisten up fully.

The critical fire weather is expected to return by next week and accelerate the fire behavior but he said the westerly winds should keep the blaze from spreading significantly.

New Mexico state agencies will test private well water in Mora on Saturday for residents affected by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire.

Free drinking water tests from the state Health and Environment departments are available for the first 100 participants at the Saturday event from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Mora County Complex at 1 Courthouse Drive in Mora. Residents should bring water samples in a clean glass or plastic container.

The state agencies will also need information about well depth, depth to water, well casing material, latitude and longitude and distance to the nearest septic tank.

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(c)2022 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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