Fire crews rely on air support to successfully suppress wildfires

As wildfire season continues in Arizona, hotshot crews fighting wildfires on the ground are getting a lot of support from the air.

Specialized fire fighting aircraft can move faster, and well as go to places people cannot. However, it takes well-trained personnel to pull it off.

In all, there are about six Type One aircraft in the southwest region. They monitor the situation strategically on a day-by-day basis, and they ready for takeoff at a moment's notice.

At the airport in Prescott, there are aircraft parked there that are helping to fire wildfires, as the area is dealing with the Tussock Fire.

Related: Evacuations lifted for Tussock Fire burning near Prescott National Forest

One of the aircraft is a 1968 Chinook helicopter that once saw action during the Vietnam Conflict. It is now fighting another enemy that comes in the form of flames.

Wendell Bosch with Billings Flying Service is part of a two-pilot team that flies the helicopter.

"It’s the most capable aircraft. Unbelievable. Up is up. You pull the rider, it goes. A true performer," said Bosch.

The stripped-down, retrofitted helicopter is positioned in Prescott today, but it could be in Mesa tomorrow. On any given day, it heads to wherever the greatest threat is. The aircraft is designed to drink up and drop off water on wildfires with near pinpoint accuracy.

"It takes practice, and the environment plays a role," said Bosch. "There’s always wind. Every drop is a little different pending on the direction in the terrain."

The helicopter carries what is known as a bucket, which is used to drop water on the fires. The bucket is six feet tall, and can carry 2,000 gallons (about 7,570.82 liters) of water. As impressive as it sounds, the bucket just described is among the smaller firefighting tools. Other bigger equipment includes a British-built large air tanker (LAT).

A large air tanker can carry up to 3,000 gallons (11,356.24 liters) of fire retardant. Fire retardants help slow the flames, which gives ground crews a chance to fight the fire.

"These are going to be able to knock down certain types of fire behavior quicker and faster. <ore effective than ground resources," said Tussock Fire Incident Management Team spokesperson Ansgar Mitchell.

As the fire season drags on, these aircraft will move onto new hotspots, usually moving farther to the north as those states begin to dry out and heat up.

More wildfire coverage:

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