PA’s Firefighting Aircraft to Contract to Fight Wildfires

(Provided photo)
(Provided photo)

(Provided photo)

PENFIELD – “Spring wildfire season” occurs after most of the snow has melted and before the trees get fully-leafed out. This is the time of year when most of Pennsylvania’s wildfires occur, according to Wayne Wynick, assistant district forester.

In Pennsylvania, nearly every wildfire is caused by humans, in some manner or another. One of the primary sources of springtime wildfires is people burning debris without being aware of how dry conditions might be, he said.

Once that fire has escaped their control, Wynick explained that it is up to firefighters to keep it from causing additional property damage, or even the possibility of causing an injury or the loss of a life. He said one of the tools that the Bureau of Forestry uses to attack these wildfires will soon be arriving at the Mid State Airport at Black Moshannon.

This tool, Wynick said, is in the form of two Air Tractor 802 “Water Bombers” that will be used for initial attack on wildfires throughout the region. This particular model was designed specifically to fight wildfires and has become a workhorse across the nation.

According to him, it has the capacity to deliver 800 gallons of water or fire retardant material quickly to a wildfire. This, he said, can be applied in a number of patterns in order to effectively control a wildfire.

The first aircraft will begin operations on March 29, and be on-station during the peak of the spring wildfire season for this region of the state. The second aircraft will join it on April 5, said Wynick.

For the last few years, he said one of these aircraft spent its operational period working from the Bedford Airport. For this year, he said both will be stationed at the Mid State Airport.

The aircraft will be on-duty for several weeks. Both will depart in early May at the end of the contract for the year, said Wynick. He added they will then move on to other locations in the western part of the United States to assist with wildfire suppression during the peak of fire activity in other states. These aircraft, Wynick said, are considered to be a national resource and travel around to where they are most needed during the year.

The use of aircraft, while costly, can be a valuable tool to a wildland firefighter. There are situations where structures are threatened, or perhaps it will be quite a time before the firefighters are actually on-scene because of the remoteness of a fire, explained Wynick.

In these cases, he said the aircraft can be a critical tool. He said it can give firefighters the time they need by protecting structures or keeping a remote fire from becoming a large one.

In order to prepare local wildfire fighting resources to work in close coordination with the aircraft, a training meeting is planned for later this month. It is to be held at the Black Moshannon Forest Maintenance Headquarters, said Wynick.

Topics that will be covered are basic aircraft operations, air tanker operations and general safety for wildfire fighting when aircraft are in use.

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