Helicopter firefighters see rise in weather-related rescue missions in Colorado

Cañon Helitack consists of firefighters who are transported by helicopter to wildfires. They are part of Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

CANON CITY, Colo. – Cañon Helitack, a crew within Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control, has seen an uptick of rescues involving enthusiasts of nature.

According to DFPC, Cañon Helitack consists of teams of firefighters who are usually transported by helicopter to wildfires.

But these teams and their helicopters as of late have been dispatched not to fight wildfires but to save people who have ventured to Colorado’s mountainous landscape and found themselves stranded and unprepared for sudden changes in the weather.

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"The weather can change in a heartbeat at higher elevations," said Brian Crowly, Cañon Helitack Captain and pilot. "Storms can move in. It could be 50 to 60 degrees at the trailhead. They get up to elevation, and now they're unprepared."

In neighboring Utah, three teenage hikers were stranded on the summit of Mount Olympus near Salt Lake City. The weather turned for the worst when a storm blew in and temperatures dropped.

Aerial attempts at a rescue were nearly foiled when high winds and ice forming on helicopter rotors prevented the aircraft from flying safely.

Fortunately for the hikers, a break in the weather allowed the Utah Department of Public Safety to reach the summit and complete the rescue – what the sheriff is calling a "miracle."

Crowley stressed the importance of being prepared while enjoying the outdoors. He recommended bringing extra food, water and clothing.

"A small mistake can actually cost them dearly," Crowley cautioned.

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