NJ Forest Fire Service gets help from the air to fight fires

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BERKELEY TOWNSHIP -

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service often must fight fires from the air with the use of a special plane.

An Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss plane has been at the Ocean County Airport in Berkeley Township since March. The Forest Fire Service uses the single-engine tanker to fight fires through a government contract.

“You get pretty low. You get down to about the tops of the trees,” says pilot Steve Fletcher. “You look at the wind and the smoke, and it tells you a lot and you make your judgment from there.”

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The plane can carry about 800 gallons of water at a time. The pilot can control how much is dropped from the plane at a time.

“We can split the load up to about four times and we can set the opening of the gate, how much comes out, the width of the opening ad also the timing,” Fletcher says.

Fire officials say that with the threat of forest fires so high at the moment, the plane is sometimes sent up twice a day to put out fires.

The plane can also be used to detect problem spots.

“Not only are we getting that 800 gallons of water, we’re also getting the eyes from the sky, giving us feedback on what the fire is doing,” says Forest Fire Service firefighter Shawn Judy.

The contract with the tanker plane ends on May 11, which marks the end of the spring forest fire season.

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