Wildfires Spark Questions Over Need For Additional Air Support

Wednesday, May 7th 2014, 4:57 pm
By: News 9

Residents near a massive Logan County wildfire say the Oklahoma National Guard's helicopters came too late for the fast-moving flames.

The fire near Guthrie started late Sunday afternoon. National Guard Blackhawks were not over the flames until Monday. Even with the late support, people believe there were not enough resources in the sky. With an ongoing drought, is it time for Oklahoma to loosen the purse strings and buy more aircraft?

"Right now, we don't have the resources to combat something that's moving that fast," said News 9 aviation expert and pilot Jim Gardner.

5/7/2014 Related Story: Investigation Continues Into Cause Of Massive Logan Co. Wildfire

Gardner has covered numerous wildfires from California to Oklahoma. He says having a couple of Bell 412 dual-engine helicopters with dump tanks would help Oklahoma. Used 412s cost anywhere from $3 million to $8 million. In the long run, Gardner says the helicopters could save money by squashing fires fast, limiting the need for ground crew equipment and extra overtime pay.

"There's a huge expense of money right there," said Gardner. "If you had a helicopter coming in that could hit that and drop water, that's … going to offset the cost."

Oklahoma's Council on Firefighter Training says more air support would be great -- but money is the issue. News 9 asked if Governor Fallin supports extra funding. A Fallin spokesperson did not answer the question but said budget negotiations are ongoing. In the recent Woodward County wildfire, a plane was used from Arkansas. Oklahoma officials say paying to share resources is less expensive than owning resources.

5/6/2014 Related Story: Fire Crews From The State Mobilize To Fight Woodward Wildfire

"Resources [are] usually not a problem at all," Oklahoma Forester Director George Geissler said. "Our fire seasons are typically just that, seasons."

No matter the type of aircraft or where it comes from, Gardner says it's always a race against time. The key to fighting fires from the air is establishing a quick turnaround period when dropping water and filling tanks, according to Gardner.

To contact lawmakers for their stance on owning more aircraft, click here: