Local Airport a Hub for Aircraft Battling Wildfires
November 21, 2016
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  • Two, sometimes three times a day for the past month helicopters have carried gallons of water over fires in northwest Georgia, specifically the Rough Ridge Fire in the Cohutta Wilderness.

    Ben Parson, flight line manager at Dalton Municipal Airport, a hub for those helicopters, said that fire is the largest in the area.

    “The firefighters are combating the smoke, but we are housing the aircraft,” he said.

    There are three helicopters at the airport that drop buckets of water and personnel to fight the flames.The buckets hold 250 to 750 gallons of water.

    “They dip water out of a lake or river and carry it across to dump on fire,” Parson said, noting that there are typically three to four firefighters and two pilots involved.

     Charlie Ross, a lineman at the airport, said the firefighters are contracted to work for the U.S. Forest Service.

    “These are professional air attack firefighters,” said Ross.

    Helicopters are only flown during the day. Parson said every morning firefighters are at the airport waiting to go up.

    In addition to the two or three times helicopters take firefighters up, other flights are taken to make sure fires are not jumping borders.

    “When the fires started we had one helicopter here patrolling local fires, like the one in Rocky Face and other smaller fires,” Parson said. 

    He said the smoke in the area is coming from a collection of fires but mostly the Cohutta Wilderness. 

    “There are several in the area, but the Cohutta Wilderness is the biggest of the season,” he said. “Last check it was 23,000 acres, it’s still going but starting to slow down.”

    Ross said responsibilities are divided depending on where the fires are.

    “There have been helicopters from both federal and state at the airport,” he said. “We have other helicopters come in occasionally that fight the Rocky Face fire, that’s not federal, that’s state.”

    The airport provides a central location for federal agencies to set up an office and command headquarters to work from.

    Connie Fox is a helicopter base manager from Colorado.

    “I make sure the mission has everything needed before going out,” she said. “We have a light shift helicopter that goes and check fires, one drops water, cargo and takes passengers out. Then we have the Black Hawk that just drops water.”

    Fox has been in Dalton three weeks.

    “Working with the airport has been great,” she said. “They are supplying us a place to work out of and keep our helicopters. They have been awesome.”

    Doug Ross with the California Interagency Incident Management Team is helping with air support.

    “We’re basically getting supplies for the operations and aircraft,” he said. 

    He said there are about 400 members in Dalton helping.

    “More are coming, some crews are coming in while others go home,” he said.