The U.S. military sent two Black Hawks equipped with water buckets Friday to help South Koreans fight a massive forest fire that has forced thousands to flee their homes northeast of Seoul.
The assist came as South Korean President Moon Jae-in made a surprise visit to the city of Goseong, which has served as a base for some 10,000 firefighters and military personnel working to extinguish the blaze.
The fire started Thursday and was spread quickly by strong winds in the mountainous Gangwon province, which hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics.
It was largely under control late Friday after destroying hundreds of homes and displacing more than 4,000 people, according to The Associated Press. One person was killed.
The government, which said it was possibly South Korea’s biggest forest fire, declared a national emergency.
U.S. Forces Korea, the main command, said it sent two UH-60 Black Hawks and nine servicemembers, including pilots and crew chiefs from the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, to help in coordination with South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The helicopters were equipped with specially designed aircraft buckets, known as Bambi buckets, to scoop water and drop it on designated areas, USFK said, adding that additional assets are on standby if needed.
The Americans were working with the South Koreans “to protect local (South Korean) citizens,” USFK spokesman Col. Chad Carroll said in a press release. “It’s important we use our training and resources to partner with our allies when real-world issues like this arise.”
Some 28,500 U.S. servicemembers are stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North after their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
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