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Aircraft a successful strategy in attacking Washington wildfires

Since Washington state ramped up use of aircraft after the last record season, more than 90 percent of wildfire starts are easier to control.

Washington state has recorded a record 835 wildfire starts so far in 2018, and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz says more than 90-percent have been kept to less than 10 acres.

The containment numbers began improving after more small aircraft were employed to douse fires while their still small, giving wildland firefighters on the ground a better chance of containing them and putting them out.

The change came in the wake of back-to-back fire seasons in 2014 and 2015. The 2014 record eclipsed a previous record that had stood for 112 years.

In 2016, the Department of Natural Resources began adding aircraft. The state’s largest firefighting agency, who is responsible for protecting more than 13,000 acres, ramped up the number of its own helicopters to eight. A ninth Huey helicopter owned by Chelan County that frequently works with DNR increases that number effectively to nine.

Then there are the Fire Bosses, small single-engine aircraft that pack a punch. Their numbers also doubled to eight. The single-engine Fire Boss numbers, under exclusive use contracts to the state, can be placed around the state, be in the air in minutes, and on the scene quickly. They can stay in the air for four hours and have scoops in their pontoons, which can load another 800 gallons in as little as 15 seconds. The amphibious planes can also be loaded with retardant at airport support sites.

Five of the Fire Bosses currently under contract belong to Dauntless Air of Appleton, Minnesota. Two are stationed in Ellensburg, two in Deer Park north of Spokane and one in Dallesport.

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