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Arizona pilots ready for an early fire season

Posted at 10:16 PM, Apr 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-10 21:13:12-04

BUCKEYE, AZ — When wildfires spark, fire crews fan out hoping to keep flames from spreading towards homes, putting families in danger.

The fight happens both on the ground and in the air, firefighters use different techniques to douse the flames and create lines that keep it in a contained area.

This season could be more active than usual, according to pilot Beryl Shears. "The heavier the winter rains, the worst the fire season is going to be," said Shears, a pilot with Western Pilot Service since 1985. “We take into consideration that those fires burn earlier in the year, and so we’re ready a little earlier.”

A team of 14 pilots, using a hangar in Buckeye as their base, say they're ready for a call at any moment. Each of their five fire planes is fueled up to travel across Arizona, or to other states. Each plane can carry and drop 800 gallons of red fire retardant from 80 feet in the air. The planes fly low in order to drop the fire surpassing chemical where it's needed.

“From the time we get the dispatch to the airplane is in the air, it's no longer than 15 minutes," Shears added.

The planes are commonly used to fight fires near homes, but says their efforts can only do so much.

“Some preemptive work on the homeowners part goes along way in saving your house," he said.

Clearing brush from around your home and having an escape plan are two things he and many fire experts recommend planning before fire season begins.