Fighting wildfires from the air


LONDON, Ky. (WTVQ) — Fighting wildfires is dangerous, physically demanding and emotionally taxing but not all of it is done on the ground.

Fire officials with the U.S. Forest Service says it’s just as important to fight the fire from the air as it is the ground.

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And because of the unforgiving terrain in many places firefighters have no choice but to fight some fires from the air.

“So if it’s limited road access, with the helicopters, there’s multiple tools that we can use,” says Eric Holzem, helicopter program manager with the U.S. Forest Service.

Tools like repelling.

“Here in the region they have a couple of repel programs that the firefighters can actually be delivered by ropes,” says Holzem.

Helicopters are also used to bring in water from natural water sources like streams and ponds.

“Then we’ll start working in conjunction with the helicopter as he’s dropping water, we’ll be putting in hand lines to contain the fire,” says Holzem.

They also fight fire with fire with a Red Dragon Machine.

“It actually takes these ping pong balls and we drop them outside the helicopter once they’re injected with antifreeze or glycol,” says Holzem.

Flammable ping pong balls are used to start fires.

“What this does is it’s designed to create less exposure to our firefighters on the ground,” says Holzem.

Less exposure, allowing the fire to burn out in a more controlled manner.

Firefighters on the ground have an eye in the sky from a forest service plane to keep them out of danger.

“My job is to coordinate air traffic and help the firefighters on the ground being safety first for them and the citizens here in Kentucky,” says Darin Suter, air tactical group supervisor with the forest service.

He says aerial coverage is just as important after the fire is out as it is when it’s burning.

“We’ll go up, detect and fly around and see what we see and if we see smoke coming up we’ll go look at it,” says Suter.

Wildfires have to be fought on the ground and often from the air and the men and women who put their lives on the line to do it need all the modern day tools and technology available to be successful.