Valley firefighters use aerial attacks to combat the Rim Fire

August 26, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Dozens of firefighters start flying as soon as it's light enough every morning. It is about a 30 minute flight from the California Air National Guard in East Central Fresno, to where the Rim Fire is currently burning. Firefighters say attacking the flames from the sky is crucial to getting control of the flames.

The schedule on the runway is slammed at Fresno's United States Forest Service Air Tanker Base. Every day pilots take off and land in spotter planes, P2's and massive C-130s. The C-130's are military cargo planes being contracted from the U.S. Air Force to battle the Rim Fire.

"I know that there's basically two major plumes. One on each flank, and from what I understand lots of congestion. Resources are constantly moving in and out and there really isn't any rest for the flier," Col. Bill Green with the California Air National Guard said.

Joe Ontiveros is the man who pulls the trigger to dump retardant on the fire, once he gets the go ahead from a spotter plane.

"It's essentially a bombing run. They come in we follow behind them and he will say okay I want you to start here and just go till you're empty," Ontiveros said.

It only takes five to 10 seconds for all 3,000 gallons in the cylinder to dump onto the flames. Every crew in the sky is monitored on a screen in a dispatch center. Firefighters say having a hub is crucial to getting the upper hand on the raging flames.

"The advantage of the aircraft is they are able to get to the fire very quickly in remote areas that are difficult for the ground crews to access," a fire official said.

Crews say what makes this fire especially challenging is that there aren't any roads in the remote areas just very steep terrain and very, very dry brush. So they say having this base where they can land for about 15 minutes, refuel and head right back out and attack from the skies is essential to putting out the Rim Fire.


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