Dave Moller
Senior Staff Writer

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July 14, 2008
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Bombing the blazes


You don't have to be at the scene of wildfires to fight them. Just ask Chicago Park resident Ken Hood.

Hood is the state's aviation and fire equipment manager for the Bureau of Land Management at Mather Airport in Sacramento. When more than 800 fires broke out across Northern California on June 21, he got busy and has pulled 12- to 16-hour days ever since, coordinating local and state fire resources.

"We were hit with so many fires at once that it's been hard to catch up," Hood said Monday. "It's been hard because we have a shortage of air tankers" that bomb the wildland fires with water and flame retardant.

"A lot goes on logistically," said Hood, who figures out how and where to send planes and equipment to fire sites.

To get enough resources, Hood has been bringing fire engines from all 50 states into California on C5A military jumbo jets, rail cars and flatbed trucks.

"It's easier to move equipment across the country and fly the crews in," Hood said. "That way they're fresh because they don't have to drive cross-country and then start fighting fires.

"I've been burning the candle at both ends," Hood said. "I come here and at night, I go down to help at the fire station," where he is a volunteer battalion chief for the Peardale-Chicago Park Fire Protection District.

"When the fires broke out here, we began coordinating with the National Fire Center in Boise, Idaho," Hood said. "We brought the National Guard on board," and they are training to be firefighters at the national Wildland Fire Training and Conference Center at McClellan Business Park, the former Air Force base, also in Sacramento.

Firefighters have also been arriving from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Pacific Islands.

"Russia is offering smoke jumpers, and a lot of countries we've helped before are helping us now," Hood said. "We couldn't do it without all the support."

While deploying existing air tankers in California, Hood also has been bringing in all kinds of airplanes from the outside to battle the state's blazes.

They include two Martin Mars "super-scoopers" out of Canada that have been taking water out of lakes to drop on fires near Redding. A DC-10 also has been dropping retardant on a large scale to halt advancing fires around the state.

On a smaller scale, single-engine air tankers that resemble crop dusters have also been called to the scene.

"They're very maneuverable and can get into tight canyons the other air tankers can't get into," Hood said.

As of Monday morning, Hood had amassed an impressive amount of people and equipment for Northern California's blazes, including 21,447 firefighters, 473 hand crews, 15,093 engines, 293 bulldozers, 406 water tankers and 50 to 80 aircraft per day.

Today, Hood will get closer to the fires than ever, when he goes to Redding's fire center to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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The Union Updated Jul 15, 2008 02:46AM Published Jul 14, 2008 03:00AM Copyright 2008 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.