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Firefighting helicopters in Colorado are now allowed to fly at night

The state Division of Fire Prevention and Control is the first in the country to allow helicopters to fly after the sun sets.
Credit: KUSA

COLORADO, USA — Colorado is adding a new tool to fighting fires. 

The state Division of Fire Prevention and Control is the first in the country to allow firefighting helicopters to fly at night. Pilots wear night vision goggles to attack the flames 24 hours a day.

"With the night vision goggles, you can see practically everything you can see during the day," said Vince Welbaum, aviation unit chief for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. "Helicopters are very critical, as with any of the aviation assets we have out there."

Colorado is no stranger to wildfires and finding new ways to fight them. Up until now, firefighters couldn’t use one of their most important tools when the sun went down. Night time is the best time to fight fires, Walbaum said. 

"You’ve got calmer winds. You’ve got higher humidity, lower temperatures," Welbaum said. "The fire suppression tactics with a helicopter and a bucket is really more beneficial. No other state in the U.S. right now has a night-flying program. There are a number of states looking at our program now to see how successful it’s going to be."

Hundreds of homes were destroyed across the state in the 2018 wildfire season. Helicopters helped battle the flames from above, but were forced to land 30 minutes after sunset. Welbaum says the outcome could have been different if helicopters were flying at night. 

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"Last year, we had four fires that burned a number of homes that I think we could have supported and done some work on that would have assisted in maybe minimizing the fire," Welbaum said. "We have an opportunity, and we owe it to the citizens of Colorado to do whatever we can to support them."

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The Aviation Unit of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control have not been dispatched to any fires in 2019.

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