Questions Surround Guthrie Wildfire Response

Wednesday, May 7th 2014, 6:52 pm
By: Karl Torp

An Oklahoma National Guard pilot thinks his unit could have been deployed to the fire in Guthrie before Monday.

Pilot Will Kavanaugh, who is a news helicopter pilot for KOTV in Tulsa, was training with his Guard unit Sunday.

"We had multiple ships flying throughout the day," said Kavanaugh.

Even though National Guard pilots were together and training that very afternoon in Tulsa, a call to use the Blackhawks to drop water Sunday in Guthrie never came.

"From the time we would have gotten the order to move, we could have been at Guthrie an hour and a half at most," said Kavanaugh.

5/6/2014 Related Story: Firefighters Make 'Significant Progress' Battling Logan County Wildfire

Instead, emergency management assumed it would take the standard two hours to even assemble a Blackhawk crew and that was too late in the day because the aircraft don't fight fires are night. In fact, News 9 has learned, Emergency Management didn't know pilots were even airborne Sunday in Tulsa.

"We did not know that the guard was actually training this weekend," said Emergency Management Director, Albert Ashwood.

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Ashwood tells News 9 he watched the coverage of the fire on TV, but didn't learn extra help was needed until National Guard Pilots in Tulsa had been dismissed for the day. Ashwood says, at that point, the two hour timetable to assemble a crew would probably apply.

"We would have still been able to assemble very quickly," added Kavanaugh. "We'll fight until dark."

Ashwood says the strength of the wind was also a concern for firefighting aircraft Sunday.

"We should probably have a calendar on when the guard is training, that's something we haven't done in the past," says Ashwood.

5/4/2014 Related Story: One Dead After Controlled Burn Causes Large Wildfire In Logan County