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Using Aircraft on Wildland Fires

BY DAN REESE Firefighters on the ground are ultimately the ones who extinguish fires. But they can only fight fire as fast as they can walk, at best, and usually engage flames that are only three to four feet high. Firefighters with equipment such as bulldozers may be able to handle flames of six to eight feet, and they travel only as fast as the fire's fuels and the terrain in which they are working will allow. The fastest these machines can travel is no more than 885 yards per hour—barely a half mile—on a single pass. Most fire lines may need up to three passes to create a fire break, depending on the fuel type. This is where aircraft come into the picture. Aircraft drop water and retar...

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