Suppression Works


Aerial firefighting: Is it worth it?” (HCN, 8/3/15) claims that wildland firefighting from the air has yet to be proven to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone knowledgeable about wildland firefighting understands that fixed-wing tankers and helicopters have always been used in an initial attack mode. Their mission was never meant to extinguish fires, but rather to suppress them, giving ground-based firefighters safer entry into the burn zone. Aerial firefighters provide time so that ground crews can do the extinguishing and mop up.

As for effectiveness, according to the most recent daily situation report issued by the National Interagency Fire Coordination Center, from Aug. 7 to Aug. 13, there were some 1,200 fires burning throughout the United States. Thanks to the deployment of 25 large air tankers and over 100 helicopters, 96 percent were stopped in the initial attack stage. Without those aerial assets, it’s not likely that level of success would have happened.

As for the argument that chemical retardants are environmentally harmful, we understand they aren’t perfect. However, the Forest Service continues to refine retardant specs to make them more environmentally benign and engage in studies with a goal of making retardant more effective. Those studies, according to the Forest Service, should be completed within the next few years.

George Hill
American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association
Washington, D.C.

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