Fighting fire from the air is better known as aerial firefighting. This type of firefighting method was developed to help with wildfires because of the fires occurring in difficult areas to reach. Aerial firefighting uses many types of aircrafts such as helicopters and planes each carrying regular water or a special fire retardant material. Along with these special aircrafts for fighting fire from the sky, there is also a special group of firefighters known as Smokejumpers who parachute in tot he difficult areas and fight the fire from the ground level. They are very special firefighters indeed because of the dangerous situations they face and the locations in which they are landing in. The death rate for these firefighters is no laughing matter.
The helicopters carry the water or other materials to extinguish the fire in a tank or bucket especially designed for this job. The bucket is filled with water from a pond or lake nearby and then flown and dumped on the fire. The Bambi Bucket is one of the better known buckets used. Those helicopters using tanks receive the water from a nearby water source also. The difference is that they siphon the water through a straw-like snorkel. A few special helicopters can actually be filled while they are in the air by this same type of snorkel device. Aircraft carry tanks that are filled while they are on the ground by special filling areas but can also skim across the water to fill them if needed.
The particular chemicals used in these tanks vary but the majority of the aerial firefighting is done with ammonium sulfate. The chemicals remove the heat from the fire and cover it so no oxygen can get in. In the past a Borat salt mixture was used but was found to not only be toxic to the animals but would cause the soil to become barren and not produce any greenery. The new ammonium sulfate mixture is combined with a clay and guar gum to make it thicker and a red coloring is also added.
This mixture also prevents rust deposits from occurring because of the clay and gum it contains. The thickness provides a lower chance of the material running off the original location it was intended for and the coloring shows where it has been applied. This produces a safer chemical and will actually help to fertilize the ground to grow vegetation back faster. Any of the ammonium sulfate mixture that gets into the water and has excessive sunlight will be harmful to the fish in that water.
By using aerial firefighting for these fires, more land can be saved than with a regular ground attack. They give a defensive line to those fires that are not reachable by human firefighters. As seen on the many television broadcasts showing wild fires, it is obvious that it takes a long period of time to extinguish these types of fires. It may take as long as a week to a few months to stop the fires from burning out of control. Imagine what it would be like if it were not for the aerial firefighters and vehicles that aided in the fight. We might loose a larger amount of our forests were it not for this great firefighting equipment and personnel.