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Valley wildfire aviation firefighters stand ready for call to duty

Posted at 10:47 PM, Dec 05, 2017

There's no question that fire crews and pilots put their lives on the line when they're fighting wildfires, but it's a decision they must make every time they're called to duty. 

Someone who knows that call better than most is Beryl Shears. He owns Valley-based Western Pilot, a company that tackles blazes in Arizona, and also across the country. 

"When it's wind-driven, it is extremely dangerous," explained Shears. "On a great, rare occasion, there are times when it is life-threatening."

Shears explains the biggest obstacle is almost always the wind. 

"The wind is moving the fire through, and the terrain is another challenge. How steep are the mountains? How big are the power lines? How deep are the canyons?" said Shears.

The smoke in these situations is tough to avoid, so Shears instructs his crews to penetrate the smoke only as much as they have to. 

"That's why the retardant is red so we can see where the last airplane dropped and then hook our retardant line to the last one," said Shears.

And perhaps the hardest part, Shears said, is not being able to do the job because mother nature is too intense. 

"At times, the fire gets too big and you have to back off. That's why these fires continue to grow," said Shears.

And with our below average rainfall the past three months, Beryl says he is concerned Arizona could also see some late season fires like California has.

Which is why Shears always has at least three planes on standby, just in case they're called into action.