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Lightning triggers wildfire in La Plata Mountains

Mesa Verde Helitack used short-hauling technique to drop off and pick up firefighters working a fire in the La Plata Mountains Saturday. (Courtesy San Juan National Forest)
Fire contained using technique recently approved by National Forest Service

The San Juan National Forest teamed up with Mesa Verde National Park Helitack to contain a wildfire fire Saturday morning in the La Plata Mountains.

The Max Fire burned a tenth of an acre in a remote area with dense vegetation, according to a National Forest post on Facebook. It was started by lightning.

The strategy to fight the fire was notable in that it was the first approved helicopter short-haul operation for a wildfire on U.S. Forest Service land, according to the agency.

Jun 22, 2020
Short-haul operations a specialty of Mesa Verde Helitack

In a short-haul operation, a helicopter carries personnel and their gear at the end of a fixed line that hangs under the helicopter’s belly.

The technique is used best in a remote, densely vegetated area where a helicopter can’t land, such as rugged or forested terrain.

The Mesa Verde helicopter crew prepares for a short-haul operation that delivered firefighters to a wildfire burning in a remote area of the La Plata Mountains. (Courtesy San Juan National Forest)
Mesa Verde Helitack used a short-haul technique to transport firefighters to and from a wildfire in the La Plata Mountains Saturday. It was the Forest Service’s first short-haul operation since it was approved in 2021. (Courtesy San Juan National Forest)
Firefighters responding to a wildfire in the La Plata Mountains were lowered by a helicopter to the remote area. The lightning-caused fire was contained. (Courtesy San Juan National Forest)

While short-haul operations have been used in medical evacuations for years, they were approved for wildfire operations on Forest Service lands in 2021.

“Forest management deemed short haul the best tool for the job when assessing the remote fire burning in the La Plata Mountains,” the Facebook post said.

The Max Fire was not near roads or a desirable landing zone for a helicopter, making short haul the best operational candidate.

A fire crew was inserted and quickly contained the Max Fire, which then received rain from Saturday’s thunderstorms.

The firefighters were extracted using the same method.

Short-haul operations are a specialty of Mesa Verde Helitack, an eight-person firefighting and rescue crew based at Mesa Verde National Park.