Supervisors conduct symphony of firefighting aircraft

Credit: Ryan Hilliard/ KTVB

Supervisors conduct symphony of firefighting aircraft

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by Justin Corr

Bio | Email | Follow: @JCorrKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on August 19, 2012 at 5:42 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 5:05 PM

BOISE -- It's been a busy week for the hundreds of firefighters working the Trinity Ridge Fire.

Miles away in Boise, Carol Field is staying busy too. Surrounded by huge fire maps and sitting in front of three computer screens, she dispatches and directs the firefighting aircraft for the Boise National Forest, the Boise District BLM, and the state of Idaho.

"(We've) been running a lot of aircraft," said Field. "There were days when we had air tankers start flying at 9:30 in the morning, and run until dark."

With thousands of acres of forest burning in Idaho right now, Carol can have as many as two dozen craft in the air. Lead planes help the heavy tankers, who drop the retardant to slow down the fire, and choppers can drop water or work as a medical craft. They also use fixed-wings, with Air Attack Supervisors.

"You could call them a field general," said Dave Olson, with the Boise National Forest.

Those Supervisors coordinate the efforts of the ground crews with the air crews, from the air.

"They're basically directing an air tanker coming into a fire, and instructing the helicopters to move out of the way. Once the air tanker leaves, then moving the helicopters back in again," said Olson. "And really, to be helping the firefighter on the ground to get that air, whether it's water or retardant, resource to the fire."

Olson says, when you have all the heavy air tankers moving together in the same direction, it's like a dance. Coordinating their movement with the other planes, choppers, and ground crews seems to take all the skill and teamwork of a symphony orchestra.

With hundreds of firefighters battling the flames on the ground and hundreds of feet above it, that coordination is key to saving homes, small towns, and lives.

"It's to support the efforts of the person on the ground to lower the heat intensity of the flame, slow the flame down, so they have a chance to really catch that fire, and be able to put it out safely and quickly," said Olson.

Olson also said they're going to get even busier at dispatch Sunday night. He says they're seeing lightning across Southwestern Idaho, and multiple new fire starts.

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