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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
7:35 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

Time to prepare...<BR>Firefighters gear up, season closes in

Courier/Joanna Dodder

The crew of the Boeing Vertol 107-II helicopter stands ready at the Prescott Airport to help battle wildfires in the region. With them is Chuck Allen, at left, who is the Prescott Fire Center's air tanker base manager.

Other Prescott-area residents have made good progress in thinning out their own dead trees. Prescott's free dump days the past four weekends have attracted more than 1,000 loads of tree slash, Willis said.

He warned residents to be sure to clear out the tree slash as soon as possible after they cut down the trees. Large piles of slash along the upper Copper Basin Road right-of-way next to the national forest is worrisome, he said, prompting Forest Service officials to take a look after Monday's meeting.

"The weather is getting hotter and drier," Morales noted. "If we get a fire now, we could have a pretty good crown fire."

All 50 of the Prescott National Forest firefighting ground crews already are on board, and a few aircraft also have arrived.

The Arizona State Land Department has contracted a single-engine air tanker for placement at the Prescott Airport.

And Columbia Helicopters of Aurora, Ore., has positioned one of its huge Boeing Vertol 107-II helicopters, commonly called a "frog," at the Prescott Airport just in case it's needed early. It can carry 1,100 gallons of water.

The City of Prescott is allowing the frog to park at its airport free. The company also has one of the copters waiting at Santa Fe.

While Columbia has a national contract with the federal government to fight wildfires, The governmnent hasn't called it to duty yet, so it spent its own money to place some of its aircraft strategically in high-risk areas, command pilot Keith Saylor explained.

"We chase down hot spots just like the Forest Service does," he said.

The Forest Service's Prescott Fire Center commonly gets two contracted large air tankers, a P3 Orion piloted by Phil Darnell and a Douglas DC-6 piloted by Del Hunt.

While the federal government grounded some tanker types after two fatal crashes last year, the P3s and DC-6s were not among them. However, they must pass special inspections.

Darnell's plane already has passed inspection and is scheduled to arrive here May 5, Prescott Fire Center Air Tanker Base Manager Chuck Allen said.

Hunt's plane is awaiting inspection and, if it passes, it's scheduled to arrive here May 12, Allen said.

However, because some Forest Service bases are without air tankers because of the grounded planes, Hunt may go elsewhere, Allen said.

The Prescott Fire Center also may have a small helicopter on line May 15.

Allen and his friend Al Tripp of Paulden have been instrumental in trying to get more aircraft back-up, courtesy of Congressman Rick Renzi.

Tripp asked Allen what he could use, Allen said some C130-E National Guard planes would be helpful, and then Tripp mentioned it to Renzi. On Saturday, Renzi announced in Prescott that National Guard planes should be available to help if the Forest Service is shorthanded.

The C130-E planes are newer, improved versions of the C130-A planes that the federal government grounded from its contract fleet.

Contract the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com.