Helicopters Join Fight On East Texas Fires - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/7/06-Longview

Helicopters Join Fight On East Texas Fires

As East Texas firefighters continue to battle blazes each day, while a similar battle is going on, in the air. Forest Service helicopters have lend an irreplaceable hand in knocking down big fires in East Texas.

They are the most important set of eyes at East Texas wildfires, the men who crew Forestry Service helicopters. "The head of the fire where the direction that the fire is actually moving can grow to have large flame length and dozers. And people can't get in there and we can go in to drop water, cool the fire down so it's safer for people to actually go in," said South Carolina firefighter Mitchell Murphree, who is a crew member of the Forestry Service helicopter unit in Marshall.

The Marshall crew have run non-stop since arriving in Texas fighting fires, including today at a blaze off of FM 2879 in Harrison County.  "You have air support. You have ground people logistics, and you're all fighting a common enemy, which is the fire at this point," said pilot Gary Spidell.

The objective is simple, access the situation from the air and very possibly save the lives of ground fighters. "When a cooperative agency like the state of Texas needs us , we're there," said Forestry pilot Jon Bourke.

Some like California crewman Jordan Reeser have now fought natural disasters involving fire and water. "We were filling sand bags a few days ago before my arrival here saving homes and businesses, then got the call to come down here and help on the fire realm," said Reeser.

There is no margin for error fighting from the air. Water drops are made very near the fire and anything could go wrong. The men who do this know the risks. "We'll do anything and everything to keep our people safe on the ground and in the air," Spidell said.

Around 18 acres were scorched in today's blaze in Harrison County. Forestry Service helicopters are staged in Mount Pleasant, Atlanta, Palestine, Lufkin and Marshall.

Bob Hallmark reporting, bhallmark@kltv.com

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