Air support takes off every 30 min.

May 22, 2008 8:33:51 PM PDT
The planes that provided the initial air attack against Thursday's fire are based in Santa Rosa.

Things by the evening started to wind down at the CAL FIRE air base in Santa Rosa. Pilots are not allowed to fly more than seven hours in a row. Pilots have been up and going since 8 or 8:30 a.m. A couple of crew members from some of the tankers said fighting the summit fire has really been a challenge.

Every half an hour or so, at the Sonoma Air Attack Base, air tankers would come in, spend just a few minutes getting loaded up with more than 2,500 gallons of retardant, and head right back to the fire zone.

ABC7 caught up with pilot Dave Dickey on run number four and he was talking about the wind.

"It's blowing real strong. The retardant is carrying quite a bit. There's communication towers immediately in the area, so the wind and the tower obstacles. It's giving us a work-out today," said Dickey.

His plane came down from Redding Thursday morning to fight the blaze. In all three heavy tankers and five smaller aircraft headed in and out of the base.

They make fire retardant at the Santa Rosa base and were constantly replenishing 50,000 gallon drums to make sure there wasn't a shortage. The Governor issued an executive order earlier this month, telling the State to immediately mobilize for fire season.

"Yes, it did speed things up here. We hired all the normal fire fighters back to the base here and got everything geared up at the base to be able to fight fire," said Sean Jerry from the Sonoma Air Attack Base.

They are not on the front lines here, but what they do behind the scenes is a crucial part of firefighting. The air tanker crews said they've been primarily working the northeast corner of the summit fire. They're keeping a watch on the wind, the flames, and other aircraft.

"We're very calm in the situation. It's actually a pretty relaxed atmosphere even though we're nervous inside," said Michael Houston, an air tanker mechanic.

At least one of the heavy air takers was on its way back to Redding. Four smaller S-2's planes will stay in Santa Rosa along with their pilots and be ready to take off at the first light of morning on Friday.


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