VIDEO | WDRB rides with helicopter crew fighting Kentucky wildfi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

VIDEO | WDRB rides with helicopter crew fighting Kentucky wildfires

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It is a massive area: 24 fires burning out of control, consuming more than 26,000 acres across seven southeastern Kentucky counties.

"We have not had a forest fire situation like this in 15 years," said Sarah Gracey with the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

On Thursday, WDRB went along with a helicopter crew battling the 150-acre Big Branch Fire in Letcher County.

The team is made up of Kentucky National Guard blackhawks that do the muscle work, filling so-called bambi buckets with 660 gallons of water in a matter of seconds, then dumping it on the flames. Each chopper makes 30 to 90 drops each day.

"We're cooling the fire off enough that the hand crews or a dozer can get in their and construct line," said Michael Froelich with the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

The other half of the team consists of higher altitude Lakota helicopters that hunt down water sources then tell crews exactly where to drop the water.

"We use our infrared camera to kinda find the hot spots, so that we can direct them accurately where the water needs to be placed," said 1st Lt. Jacon Conner with the Kentucky National Guard.

"They have been able to go in and drop water on those small fires, and that's kind of helping us right now from having those small fires become larger," Gracey said.

So far, the only structure destroyed has been a barn.  However, one person has died in a crash blamed on smoke causing reduced visibility.   

The big concern now is that much higher winds expected to move in Friday that will not only fan the flames, but make it much tougher for chopper crews to fight.

"We have to be cognizant of wind directions and all these other things that go into play on how the visibility is going to be affected," said CW2 Joe McKnight with the Kentucky National Guard. "Sometimes it might make it to where we can't drop in a particular area, because we can't see to get into that area safely."

Officials say these fires will continue to burn until Mother Nature helps put them out. Unfortunately, significant rain is nowhere is sight.

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