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Fighting Fire by Air: Pilots a Huge Help in Battle of Wildfires

Pilots across the country have been lending a hand during the dry season to fight brushfires and other wildfires wherever there is a need. For example, Mark Sales and Colin Franklin, who both live in the West, have been operating a red and blue Black Hawk helicopter owned by Minnesota-based Brainerd Helicopter Service to fight fires all over the country. "The deeper into fire season we go, the closer we get to home," says Sales, a 41-year-old former Army pilot, as the East Coast fire season is followed in the summer by the massive wildfire season in the West. Numerous pilots arrived at Immokalee Regional Airport in Florida in April to fight an Everglades brushfire, including Sales and Franklin, who use their Firehawk copter to scoop up water in a 780-gallon neoprene bucket that can release water at the touch of a button, aimed with the help of a camera attached under the aircraft. Two other pilots, Del Griffin and Bo Dailey, were operating a converted Sikorsky submarine hunter helicopter that carries its own water tank; with the helicopter hovering low over a water source, the helicopter's pump can fill the 1,000-gallon tank in under a minute. While the task of piloting a helicopter in a fire zone comes with dangers, the pilots nonetheless said they would rather be in the sky than on the ground: "The guys on the ground, they look at us like we're nuts, I know they do," Sales says. "We look at the guys on the ground, in the tractors, and we think they're crazy."

April 29, 2009

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