Bug bombers in the sky

More than 35 years ago, a few folks got together and came up with a wild idea: Let’s get a bunch of aerial applicators from across the state and put together an aerial firefighting program that could help the rural fire departments in the event of a large wild or grass fire.

With the cooperation of the Nebraska Forest Service and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, a list of cooperating aerial applicators, known as the “Emergency Assistance for Wildfire Control” or “Yellow Book” was developed.
The concept was pretty simple. If a wildfire or grass fire was too large and fast moving for the local fire department, they could call the participating applicator in their area and request their assistance.
The decision to fly / assist was completely left up to the pilot based on the ability to fly safely and whether they might be in the process of spraying fields for their farming customers. In 1976 this program enrolled more than 100 private applicators from across the state.
From what historical data this writer can find, in 1975, aerial applicators provided assistance on 10 different fires, delivering 47 loads and hauling 7,000 gallons of fire retardant solution. Before the use of Class A foam, a liquid ammonium polyphosphate fertilizer was used and mixed with water. Today, only Class A foam can be used.
After the Ft. Robinson and Belmont fires of 1989, the need for training pilots and firefighters was recognized. This training program was developed by Ralph Moul of the State Fire Marshal’s Training Division and Ole Sihm, an aerial applicator from Grant. The Wildland Aircraft Tactics / Pilot Rescue program was first presented at the Les Lukert Winter Conference in 1991. They also acquired their first training fuselage that year.
The largest fire receiving the assistance of aerial applicators was the Mullen-Thedford fire of 1999. On March 18, 3 aircraft dumped 26,000 gallons of water and 260 gallons of foam on a fire that, ultimately, scorched 79,000 acres.
The aerial applicator program continues today, and is still funded through the Governor’s Emergency Fund. However, like anything else, we have fewer cooperating pilots. The list has gotten smaller over the years for many reasons, so the future of the program is uncertain. As of this writing, the 2011 “Yellow Book” has gone to print with only 20 cooperating applicators.
This past year Roger “Rod” Shelburne of Ogallala, a very good and long-time participant of both the aerial applicator program and fire service, passed. The 2011 “Yellow Book” has been dedicated to him.
If you have any aerial applicators in your area who may be interested in participating in this program, please have them contact me. Even though the book has already gone to print, we can always add them to the program and send out update sheets for the yellow book.
Until next time, stay safe. George J. Teixeira II, Nebraska Forest Service, Fire Resource Manager 101B Forestry Hall Lincoln, NE 68583-0815 402-472-5870 or gteixeira2@unl.edu To view a copy of the 2011 “Yellow Book” go to: http://www.nfs.unl.edu/documents/fireprotection/2011%20yellowbook.pdf

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