Aerial firefighting was developed to help fight wildfires that occur in areas difficult to reach. There are many different kinds and methods of aerial firefighting and they all work together. Besides specialized aircrafts, there is a special ‘hotshot’ group of firefighters known as the ‘Smokejumpers’. These are well-equipped men who parachute into remote areas and fight the fire from the ground level, up close and personal.
These are very special kinds of firefighters, first in action in 1936. And they are special due to the dangerous situations they confront. And the remoteness of the location often hinders quicker evacuations in case of injuries. And the death rate is usually higher.
Aerial firefighting also focuses extensively on aircrafts that can unload water or a special fire retardant material into locations. For instance, there’s an instrument called a Bambi Bucket, which is more or less a kind of large bucket that certain specially-designed helicopters use to ‘carry’ large amounts of water from nearby water bodies to the fire.
There are also helicopters that use tanks that can siphon water through a snorkel. And other helicopters that can be filled up while they are still in the air by this same kind of snorkel device. There are also kinds of aircraft that carry large tanks that are filled up on the ground but can also skim across large water bodies like lakes for a refill.
Now water alone isn’t always the best way to fight a fire. There are certain chemicals like ammonium sulfate used in these tanks. These chemicals act to remove heat from the fires and reduce the levels of oxygen in the air. Fire feeds on oxygen - less oxygen, less fire.
Now there were chemicals like the Borat salt mixture that were also used in the past. Yet it is toxic to all kinds of plant and animal life and isn’t used anymore.
The ammonium sulfate mixture is now predominately used and is further enhanced. Clay and guar gum is combined with it for thickness and a red coloring is also added. This mixture works well to prevent rust deposits because of the clay and the guar. The thickness would make sure the mixture would not flow away into unintended areas and the color shows where it was added. This makes sure that it works to its fullest capacity. A helicopter would do quite a few passes, but it can’t carry a whole lake into a forest. It needs a little help with the right kind of solution.
Unlike the Borat salt mix, the compound is also a kind of fertilizer and would help the vegetation to grow back. However, it is still harmful to fish if it gets into water bodies and it is sunny.
Aerial firefighting is usually quicker than any on-the-ground methods and also safer. It can take as long as a week or a few months to entirely douse out a fire. And its first job is to prevent it from growing out of control. It is however more expensive, yet worth it, considering what the value of our forests really are.