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  • Jon Riley

The Air Show

In the Wenatchee Valley, wildfire is no stranger to our foothills. In fact, just this season we have seen several fires come knocking at our community’s door.

You may have noticed a common theme with our fires, the multiple AIRCRAFT circling overhead. Helicopters, small planes, large planes and more… what are they all doing around the fire?

Let’s start with helicopters. Did you know that Chelan County Fire District 1 owns and operates our very own helicopter in partnership with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources? Fire District and State personnel cross staff Rotor 1 and you will see it parked at our Easy St. station while not on assignment. The helicopter crew can quickly attach a 240-gallon bucket to the underside of the “ship” to drop water onto the fire. That’s a little less than a hot tub!

On the Sunset Fire just North of Easy Street, you may have a seen a large airplane drop a red mixture onto the fire. The red mixture is called fire retardant which is 85% water 10% fertilizer and 5% other additives such as red dye and thickeners. The distinctive red dye is added to provide a visual clue to firefighters on the ground and to other aircraft where the fire retardant landed. Fire retardant’s effectiveness is strengthened by firefighters working on the ground, reinforcing the drop with handline.

Circling high above all other aircraft is a small airplane called Air Attack. Air Attack is responsible for coordinating all the other aircraft around the fire. They take in the big picture and can provide valuable information to Incident Command and fire personnel on the ground.

“Air shows” like on the Sunset fire demonstrate the power of air to ground fire attack. We have been fortunate to have these resources available to us recently. As fire season picks up, aircraft are re-positioned far and wide and their availability for us here can change daily. Our best offense is always a good defense, and that starts with reducing human caused ignitions from parking in tall grass, unsecured trailer chains, campfires, cigarettes, and the untold number of ways we introduce fire to our foothills.

As we continue into the heart of our fire season here in the Wenatchee Valley, we can all do our part to be mindful about wildfire preparation. Now is an excellent time to finalize that evacuation checklist and ensure your property has adequate defensible space. As always, we welcome any questions you may have regarding wildfire preparation and planning.

One final note for general aviation (GA) pilots and drone operators: if you fly, we can’t. Civilian aircraft (including drones) flying near wildland operations will ground all aerial resources. Please respect temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) around fires and help us keep our resources in the air!

Here are a couple up close looks at air attack from the boots on the ground so far this year:

Stay safe!

2020 Sunset Fire

Credit: Andy Monro, CCFD1

2020 Tarpiscan Fire

Credit: Jon Riley, CCFD1


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