Aerial Firefighters Change Battle Tactics

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Canada's British Columbia has been under assault from wildfires throughout the summer and aerial firefighting pilots are fighting back with new tactics to tackle the massive blazes. The tanker group has resorted to "mass launches by multiple aircraft" during a fire's early stages to try and prevent the sort of disaster that befell Kelowna, B.C., two weeks ago. The Okanagan Mountain Fire has grown to 200 square kilometers and burned more than 250 homes, despite aggressive firefighting on the ground and in the air. In addition to the massed attacks, the air tankers are using a more highly concentrated retardant and much higher coverage levels than normal. The fires, the result of the driest summer on record, are answering back with towering columns of exploding trees and airborne debris, the likes of which the pilots have never seen before. Under those types of conditions, safety becomes paramount, and technology is helping ensure the planes and pilots return. All aircraft are now equipped with satellite phones, which now provide a direct link to the tanker group's dispatch center. Staff monitoring the weather and fires can pull a pilot out of a dangerous area at a moment's notice and hopefully increase the margin of safety. But it's a dangerous occupation and there have been three pilots killed, one in the crash of a helicopter and two in the loss of an Electra air tanker.