Plane To Aid In Firefighting Efforts
Bureau of Forestry employees are strongly urging county residents to temporarily delay any outdoor burning in hopes their cautious outlook and proactive stance will not only save precious woodland but also keep them from falling back on utilizing an airplane currently at their disposal for wildfire suppression.
Buchanan State Forest District Forester Jim Smith announced an airplane referred to as a single engine air tanker (SEAT) was put into service on March 27 at the Bedford County Airport for use during the local spring fire season that typically runs through mid-May.
The plane contracted through Evergreen Flying Services Inc. can be sent anywhere in the commonwealth to combat wildfires occurring on both state forest and privately owned, wooded property, Smith stated. However, its availability locally fills an ongoing hole in the regional coverage area that spans numerous counties, including Fulton, Bedford, Franklin, Huntingdon, Blair, Adams, Perry, Mifflin and Somerset.
According to Smith, the primary purpose of an aerial water attack is to knock down flames in order for ground crews to get a better handle on the situation. Each water drop mixed with a special wetting agent made by SEAT can be released as a single 800-gallon strike or divided up into two or four specifically timed releases.
“It’s an extremely effective means of fighting fire,” said Smith of the air tanker that skims a mere 10 to 15 feet above the tree line while dropping water.
Smith stated Bureau of Forestry firefighting crews covering the Buchanan State Forest have been fortunate not to have used the services of the air tanker and its pilot to date this season. Federal money aids in covering the state-contracted services that are calculated at $22.50 per minute, which also applies to flight time to and from the scene.
In the event negligence or carelessness is linked to the start of a wildfire, suppression costs as well as expenses associated with using SEAT can be recovered, Smith added.
Forest fire specialist supervisor Ray Miller followed up on the district forester’s announcement, noting it is still a “very bad time of the year for any type of outdoor burning,” including debris and brush. In the event debris must be burned, Miller suggests placing a screen on top of a burn barrel and keeping a water source, in container or hose form, nearby.
“We’re fortunate in our area. People seem to be more conscientious about burning,” said Miller, who also applauded the ongoing efforts of local fire companies in extinguishing brush and field fires. “The volunteer fire companies do a tremendous job. We are really grateful for their assistance.”
Furthermore, fire companies can request the use of SEAT for aerial suppression through county control in combating mountain and wood fires. However, SEAT can only be officially dispatched by the Bureau of Forestry. In the event SEAT is needed at several locations simultaneously, several factors, such as threats to life and property and potential for extreme fire behavior, will be reviewed prior to dispatch.
Locally, Fulton County was considered to be at “high” risk or danger for fires on Monday. In the event winds would pick up, the potential for fire would quickly worsen.
Miller noted in eastern Pennsylvania a “red flag warning” has been issued proclaiming the potential for extreme wildfire conditions as a result of ongoing dry weather conditions. Three fires affecting more than 100 acres have been recorded in the commonwealth to date in 2010, while several additional . blazes have damaged over 25 acres.
Statewide, only Susquehanna County has a burn ban in effect at this time.
Miller concluded officials are eagerly awaiting “green up” through the emergence of tree leaves, which will inevitably result in SEAT being relocated to another area of the state potentially at greater risk of fire.