Steamboat Springs Relief arrived from the air Monday to help firefighters wrap up containment efforts on the Green Creek fire.
A large helicopter capable of carrying up to 2,600 gallons of water joined three smaller helicopters already assigned to the 4,400-acre blaze burning in the Sarvis Creek Wilderness area 15 miles southeast of Steamboat Springs.
The massive aircraft was an unexpected surprise for Joe Hartman's Type II Incident Management Team.
"We are tickled to death to have it," operations section chief Gil Gray said of the helitanker, which is known for the sheer volume and effectiveness of its water drops.
Fire officials expected full containment of the fire by Monday evening. The helitanker's timely arrival significantly aided fire crews' efforts to contain the blaze.
"We hope that if things go well, we'll have it contained by tonight," fire information officer Ron Gosnell said Monday afternoon. "But that is just an estimate."
The need for aerial support has heightened, as conditions have become dangerous for firefighters on the ground.
Gosnell explained the blaze has created several areas, called snags, where trees can fall without warning.
Rather than placing firefighters in harm's way, fire officials targeted those areas from the air.
But after the heat dies down, fire crews must often return to mix up the water with the soil to ensure the hot spots do not come to life again.
"Anything that we apply from the air, unless we can't get to it, needs to be followed up with human intervention," Gray said.
The volume of water dropped by the helitanker, however, is so substantial that many flare-ups are rendered lifeless.
"The helitanker pretty much puts it out," he said. "The more water you can apply to it, the better."
The Type II team placed an order for the helitanker five or six days ago but did not expect to see it flying over the Green Creek fire.
Higher priority fires demand such significant resources as helitankers. Incident Command Teams assigned to less pressing fires must make do with smaller helicopters.
"There's only X amount of these in the Unites States right now," Gray said. "The competition is high."
But as firefighters have begun to get a handle on some of the larger fires burning around the country, more coveted resources like the helitanker have become available.
The colossal piece of equipment is valued for its accuracy and quick turnaround between water drops. Speed can be attributed to the powerful sucking action of a hose that hangs like an elephant's truck from the bottom of the helitanker.
The hose, which measures 10 to 12 inches in diameter, can refill a 2,600-gallon tank in less than a minute.
The altitude at which the Type II team is working limits the helitanker's load to 2,000 gallons.
But that figure is still impressive when compared to smaller helicopters whose buckets can only carry about 100 gallons.
Although fire officials are pleased with the aerial impact made on the fire, they aren't taking anything for granted.
The fire got away once when the wind picked up, Gosnell said, so firefighters are taking every precaution to prevent another spread, however small it may be.
"There's too much potential for this fire to expand again," he said.
The task of holding the fire in check will fall to different leadership.
A new Type II team will assume responsibility of the fire tonight. It's a transition Hartman's team anticipates with some sentiment.
The Green Creek fire was the tenth assignment for the team this summer, but one the team will remember fondly, Gosnell said.
"Without a doubt, this Incident Command Post at Dumont Lake is the closest one yet to heaven."