Air tankers can achieve a potential fire break with retardant, and even smaller fixed-wing aircraft have played an increasingly important role in recent years. But helicopters are the workhorses when it comes to fighting fires from the air. They are equipped with buckets that can scoop up as much as 600 gallons from a nearby pond or lake, and can make precise drops on individual hot spots.
Brett Taylor, who co-ordinates aerial firefighting for the Nevada Division of Forestry, told KOLO news: “They are much slower. They can stop. They can support just a single point as opposed to a big, long line like fixed-wing aircraft do. They can support the firefighters directly.”
Co-ordination and skill
That kind of work requires a lot of co-ordination and skill. The training will pay off later in a real fire situation – when things will be much busier and more dangerous, a primary mission of the Division of Forestry.
“A lot of people, especially in the Guard community, will tell you fighting fires is probably one of the most dangerous things we do, including combat,” said Pilot Craig Soule. “We put all the weight we can on it. We go into high-altitude and hot-temperature environments, which is hard for the aircraft to work in. We can have a couple of aircraft within a mile of each other, following each other around. Smoke blows in and makes the visibility bad. All kinds of changing things all the time.”