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PILOTS ANSWER CALL ONCE MORE – FIRE, SMOKE CONSTANT COMPANIONS FOR THOSE WHO FLY THE TANKERS

Rocky Mountain News (CO) – Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Author/Byline: Clayton Woullard , Rocky Mountain News
Staff writer Dick Foster contributed to this report.
Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: 20A
During the hottest months of the year, Dave Kelly sees fire and smoke more often than he sees his wife and two children.

“If we stay in one spot long enough . . . we always get burned,” Kelly, an air tanker co-pilot, joked in describing the transient lifestyle he’s lived for three years and the little time it leaves for family.

From May to December, Kelly, of Visalia, Calif., and his pilot Phil Darnell, a 19-year veteran from Paso Robles, Calif., are on the go.

They can spend up to eight hours in their Lockheed P3 tanker.

That’s the maximum daily flying time allowed, but their workday can be 14 hours.

On Monday, the pair traveled back and forth from the Mason Gulch Fire near Beulah to the U.S. Forest Service Air Tanker Base at Jefferson County Airport in Broomfield.

Darnell and Kelly’s tanker was one of up to 13 aircraft pouring loads of retardant and water on the fire Monday, according to Larry Helmerick, fire information officer at the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

The flotilla of aircraft fighting the fire Monday included P3s, Neptune P2Vs, single-engine air tankers and Type 1, 2 and 3 helicopters.

The four-engine P3 can carry 2,550 gallons of retardant and a P2V, a twin-engine tanker, can carry 2,090 gallons.

A single-engine tanker can carry up to about 600 gallons.

The tankers mainly focus on keeping small fires small and, as in the Mason Gulch Fire, protecting structures.

The number of firefighting air tankers has declined with the retirement of several older aircraft after a series of crashes.

But Helmerick said there is adequate air support to attack the blaze.

“The aircraft are just some of the tools we have to fight fire,” Helmerick said.

Five helicopters were in the air Monday pouring buckets of water on the fire, with more expected today, Helmerick said.

Two Colorado Army National Guard helicopters were scheduled to leave Buckley Air Force Base at 8:30 a.m. today to join the effort.

A giant twin-engine Chinook, capable of carrying 2,000 gallons of water for bucket drops, and a smaller Black Hawk, which can carry 660 gallons, were readied for use Monday at the request of fire managers, said National Guard spokesman Capt. Robert Bell.

Gov. Bill Owens’ office authorized the use of the helicopters for five days beginning Monday, said Dan Hopkins, the governor’s spokesman. “If they’re needed for longer than that, we’ll reauthorize them for as long as needed,” Hopkins said.

No request has been made for other National Guard resources, including ground troops, Bell said.

Ground forces would most likely be used for transporting firefighters and helping with evacuations rather than manning fire lines, said Bell.

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