Taking to the air to fight Oklahoma's wildfires

Friday, January 6th 2006, 10:08 am
By: News On 6

A group of firefighters in Oklahoma battling the state’s wildfires is a collection flying firefighters put together by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

They are staged at several locations around the state. One of those locations is Davis Field in Muskogee. News on 6 reporter Rick Wells went to Muskogee to find out more about how they can help.

We’ve seen pictures of firefighting aircraft attacking some of our recent wild fires. They're here from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Vern Northrup is with the BIA, he's an aviation operations specialist. His job to coordinate the use of these single engine tankers. They look like crop dusters. "That's exactly what they are. They are modified to work for us." They are fast and nimble and can fly into and out of places where perhaps the bigger tankers can't. "We're just another tool in the tool box."

There are six of these planes in the state; these two are at Davis Field in Muskogee. There are two more in Bartlesville.

They can carry up to 800 gallons of fire retardant chemicals or just plain water. Thermo-gel one of the chemicals they use, it sticks to whatever they spray it on and knocks the intensity out of the fire.

Bill Taylor from Boise, Idaho is one of the pilots; he says they are here to help. "We try to make the guys on the ground's job easier and safer." Sometimes he says, smoke or terrain prevents them from seeing or attacking the head of the fire so they use what they’re carrying to steer the fire. "What you have to do is start working on a flank until you can take the smoke out of it, kind of herd the head around."

He's fought fires from the air for the last 7 years, loves it because it's important.

I think it's safe to say we're glad these guys are here.

The group has been busy since it arrived December 28th, and they say they'll stay as long as they are needed.