Pilots risk life and limb battling Arizona wildfires
POSTED: Saturday, June 22, 2013 - 11:00am
UPDATED: Saturday, June 22, 2013 - 11:04am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — One of the biggest and newest tools used to fight a wildfire is the DC-10 Air Tanker.
The massive jet is a game changer when it comes to slowing the progress of a blaze.
It can drop five times the amount of fire retardant slurry most planes can.
The tanker can't fight the fire alone, but it certainly makes life easier for firefighters and is often a blessing for homeowners.
"You want to be accurate as possible on every drop," says pilot Jack Maxey.
The high altitude performance involving air tankers, spotter planes and helicopters is orchestrated by an air boss, directing pilots as they zig-zag above the flames.
"It's very challenging - very rewarding - unlike any other flying," Maxey says.
For the past seven years Maxey has been flying the DC-10 Air Tanker.
"If you need to build a long line and you need to get some retardant some place in a hurry, this airplane to do it with," he says.
The air tankers carry almost 12,000 gallons of slurry.
The red retardant can be spread in patches 300 feet wide and a mile long, marking a perimeter around the fire.
When homes, property and lives are on the line precision is critical.
Firefighters on the ground lay out the drop zone, a lead plane picks the line and the DC-10 moves into position, then makes the drop.
On a given day DC-10 pilots can make up to eight or nine drops, often operating at low altitudes.
Most drops occur just 200 feet above the fuel source.
The fire currently burning in the Prescott National Forest has forced the evacuation of 460 homes and remains at zero percent containment.