Crews Describe Fighting Wildfires From the Air

Air Tactical Group pilots talk about flying into dangerous smoke, flames


For the past few months, Air Tactical Group pilot James Daniell hasn't been home a whole lot.

"I went home for four days this past weekend -- first time I've been home in six months," he said.

Daniell is from Bastrop, La., but he spent his time this summer in the Texas skies fighting fires. From his plane, Daniell drops a red retardant on flames.

"What we're designed to do -- the retardant is designed to slow the spread of the fire. It won't put it out, but it'll slow it," said Air Tactical supervisor Dick Stiliha.

"Probably the worst one here for me was to watch the Bastrop take off," Stiliha said."We came onto the fire, [and] it probably already had 300, 400-foot flame lengths and the column was going to about 15,000 feet."

Stiliha said people don't realize that the group of air tactical pilots across the nation is very small -- fewer than 100. This summer, several of them, such as Daniell, gave up their lives at home to fight the fires in Texas.

Daniell admits the work is grueling -- filling up his plane with 800 gallons of the retardant and then working to get it on the flames. But Daniell said the job is more than worth it.

"This is the most satisfying job I've ever had in aviation," he said. "I love the people I work with, I love the mission we try to accomplish. It's just a real satisfying job.

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