Load crews attach 100-150 foot ropes of a cargo net to a release mechanism hanging under a helicopter during the continuing aerial application of straw to mitigate soil and ash runoff from the mountainous terrain leading to Seaman Reservoir, drinking water resource for the City of Greeley, on Friday, July 20, 2012. Bell UH-1H (2-blade rotor) and A-Star Model B (3-blade rotor) aircraft were launched from a landing zone at the foot of the reservoir spillway. Pilots Randy Mason and Terry Richards in the Bell 204 and Tim Booth in the A-Star use their keen depth perception and piloting skills to keep their straw loads at the end of 100-150-foot cable above the trees and hilltops as they transport and release loads of certified straw weighing 1,400 â 2,000 pounds. 4-person load crews and heavy equipment operators with hydraulic hay fork grapple attachments make easy work of unloading 1,000 pound straw bales from tractor trailer rigs, stack them near the pickup point, then bring the bales onto cargo nets, open then loosen and adjust the load weight on the cargo nets for helicopters to lift and drop them onto barren, burned out tributary lands. Forest service lands received straw, while private and other lands receive a seed mix and straw to promote ground cover plant growth on ash-covered lands. In total, 1,800 tons of straw will be applied during the 14-day operation. One quarter of the cost was paid by the City of Greeley and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the remainder. The Hewlett Gulch Fire was started by a camperâs alcohol stove, on May 14, at the saddle of a picturesque mountain ridge along the Hewlett Gulch Trail of Poudre Canyon, in the Roosevelt National Forest, 60 miles north of Denver. At itâs more than 400 firefighters were battling fires being pushed by 50 mph winds that helped blacken over 12-square-miles of dry ground cover, brush and trees. Many of the trees were already dead and tinder dry from beetle-kill. The water in the reservoir remains clean and clear, while downstream water flow has gone from famous Colorado clear water to nearly black flows of water heavily laden with ash, silt, and burnt debris that recent thunderstorms have already washed down from the mountainsides. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.
April 29, 2014