Oklahoma Calls On Outside Help To Fight Wildfires

Friday, May 9th 2014, 5:03 pm
By: News 9

With an early start to the 2014 wildfire season, Oklahoma is calling in extra support from neighboring states and the federal government.

It takes less than an hour to up to four hours for Oklahoma to get aircraft over wildfires, according to state fire management chief Mark Goeller. On Friday, state and federal officials showed off a new CL 415 "Super Scooper" that can hold 1,600 gallons of water. The plane was used to fight recent Oklahoma wildfires.

"This aircraft … is brand new," Kevin Merrill with the U.S. Forest Service said. "It made its first operational drop in Guthrie."

The CL 415 officials showed reporters Friday is privately owned and federally managed. It's one of many outside resources Oklahoma turns to when National Guard Blackhawks and Chinooks are not enough. State forestry officials tell News 9 the extra air support gives ground crews a huge advantage as they try to control the spread of flames in fierce Oklahoma winds.

5/8/2014 Related Story: County Assessors Survey Guthrie Wildfire Damage

"The conventional firefighting tactics that would typically be used in Oklahoma this time of year are not effective," said Drew Daily of Oklahoma Forestry Services.

Prompt air support is key, but the state says it takes time to get helicopters and planes in the sky.

"Depending on where the resources are located -- that's going to determine the response time," Goeller said.

In April, the Oklahoma National Guard told News 9 metro pilots of newly purchased Lakota helicopters are on call 24/7. On Friday, the National Guard said Forestry Services had not purchased buckets for those choppers. The two organizations hope to improve relations moving forward, according to a high-ranking Oklahoma National Guard official.

"We're committed to try to bring in as much of the resources that we need," said Oklahoma state forester George Geissler.

The CL 415 costs the federal government about $50,000 a day to simply park the aircraft. Oklahoma is obligated to fund the operational cost of the plane once it is used to fight Oklahoma wildfires. The CL 415 can move anywhere in the country when needed.

5/4/2014 Related Story: One Dead After Controlled Burn Causes Large Wildfire In Logan County