ON YOUR SIDE: Raven help refused during Hunter Falls fire

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Updated: 6/22 10:12 am
RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- Washoe County's Raven helicopter is considered an excellent resource to fight fires, especially during the initial attack.

However, News 4's On Your Side team has learned that Raven was not requested in the Hunter Falls fire above Caughlin Ranch. In fact, when it was offered, the U.S. Forest Service denied the request.

The fire was spotted late on a Saturday night in mid-May. But crews did not make the first water drop until the next afternoon, as the fire spread due to gusting winds and extremely dry brush and timber on Forest Service land.

As the fire raged Sunday morning, Washoe County's Raven helicopter was nearby. The chopper was on scene in the afternoon, but it was not used at any point to fight the fire.

The Forest Service originally told News 4 that Raven was not available, because it was at Pyramid Lake on a rafter rescue. The agency has since backtracked and admitted that information was incorrect.

News 4 requested and obtained a copy of the Sierra Front dispatch records. The records indicate that on Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m., Truckee Meadows Fire inquired, asking dispatchers, "If we needed Raven up to take a look?"

One minute later at 9:46 a.m., the log sheet indicates that dispatchers asked "If Raven was needed, per Truckee Meadows Dispatch?"

The response from the U.S. Forest Service was, "Negative. Negative on Raven. Copy." This response was given as the fire was starting to spread and fill the skies with smoke.

The question is, Why was Raven not requested? U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Bill Dunkelberger said there may have been a misunderstanding. "There may have been some misunderstanding in that the ship was involved in another search and rescue operation, or wasn't available."

But the Washoe County Sheriff's Office insists Raven was available all day, but was never requested. Public Information Officer Bob Harmon said their chopper must be formally requested before it can be used in another agency's jurisdiction. "Raven was available. Basically all day," Harmon said.

After News 4 started asking questions, the Forest Service said they will meet with the Washoe County Sheriff's Office to iron out any communication issues. Also, they will discuss if this fire could have been put out sooner, had Raven been called into action.

"In addition to you asking questions, many of our command staff are asking questions," Harmon told News 4. "Was Raven requested?"

After first telling News 4 Raven was not available, the Forest Service admits they are not sure why the helicopter was not used. "That's one reason why we're meeting with the County to clarify,"  said Dunkelberger. "This could have been a misunderstanding."

If that is the case, both sides said they will work to prevent any more misunderstandings from happening in the future. "We just want to make sure they are looking at us as an asset if we can play a part in getting to these fires sooner," said Harmon.

The Hunter Falls fire ended up burning more than 700 acres at a cost of $710,000 to fight the fire. Luckily, no homes burned.

The U.S. Forest Service and Sheriff's officials will meet on Wednesday to discuss this issue. The meeting is not open to the media, but we will get a briefing afterward and report how the two sides plan to improve communications in the future.
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Kramer - 6/10/2014 6:35 PM
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the confusion stemmed from the fact that the fire was started by teens, who were ravin'
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