Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, asked state money committees on Monday to put enough extra money in the forestry budget to get a third firefighting helicopter in the air this summer.
Amodei said the state already operates two helicopters and has the third - an Army surplus Huey similar to those used in Vietnam. He said it would take about $150,000 to make necessary upgrades and repairs to get it flying.
He said his attention was called to the craft after the Waterfall fire last summer. He said Carson City was lucky because no other major fires were burning at that time, so federal aircraft from around the West were available. He said that probably won't be the case if there are fires in Nevada again this summer.
He noted the federal government has taken a number of aircraft out of service for safety reasons and is locating its remaining craft in other places. The added helicopter would give the state more ability to respond quickly and effectively without waiting for the federal government to provide help.
"This increases our capability in an area where we have precious little and cannot rely on the feds anymore," he said.
Amodei admitted the Hueys aren't able to do the heavy work done by larger choppers or large fixed-wing aircraft.
"Still, they are something we own, we exclusively control, that provide that first strike capability to prevent small things from turning into large things," he said.
He said $150,000 is "well worth spending" to increase the state's helicopter fleet by 50 percent.
Subcommittee Chairman Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, asked State Forester Pete Anderson to develop the full cost of putting the third helicopter in the air - including operating, maintenance and insurance costs as well as the $150,000 to repair, update and restore the surplus helicopter.