Firefighters and coordinators working to control the Burro Fire rely on planes and helicopters to fight this fire because sometimes many parts are too remote or too dangerous for firefighters to access.
Planes drop long swaths of a bright red slurry to block the fire’s path while helicopters can drop massive amounts of water on smaller areas to put out flames. Those helicopters are based at several helipads spread throughout the Tucson area. One of those heli-bases is spread across the campus of the now-closed Catalina Mountain School along Oracle Highway, just south of Wilds Road.
In a scene reminiscent of the sitcom M*A*S*H*, large helicopters first appear as a small dot sweeping down from the mountain.
Air Support Group Supervisor Raul Aguilera says firefighters are working the fire lines and spotters flying above the area in a plane decide where the helicopters will drop water.
“Firefighter safety is our number one goal so we're not going to put people in places that could potentially get them hurt,” Aguilera says.
Radio operators at the base work out of a bus as they coordinate safe flight paths for incoming and outgoing helicopters.
When pilots return from a mission, the ground crew can get the helicopter ready to fly again in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. From here, they fly to a water source either a lake on the mountain or a portable water tank, capable of holding thousands of gallons, to fill their buckets and head to the fire lines.
The work on the heli-pads lasts from dawn to dusk, in an environment much different from Aguilera’s home near round valley, “There are long days, it’s hot, I miss the White Mountains.”
But Aguilera, who has witnessed the destructive power of wildfires near his home in the White Mountains, says the work is rewarding, “Collectively we like to help each other out. People down here go up there and help us out too, so it’s kind of just a big family.”