N.C. Has Only One Pilot for Wildland Firefighting


After a month, a fire in eastern North Carolina is still burning strong.

More than 45,000 acres have already been burned up in this mostly rural area of Dare County.

Investigators said the fire was sparked by lightning.

North Carolina Forest Service uses helicopters to attack the wildfires in the foothills, but if a fire broke out today, it might take hours before a chopper ever lifts off the ground.

When a wildfire breaks out in the North Carolina foothills and mountains, the forecast service responds with helicopters able to drop more than 200 gallons of water at a time.

Myra Lail saw these efforts during a major fire in Burke County two years ago when people were forced out of there homes. It was kinda scary. All the neighbors were calling each other, said Lail.

Chief Brand Lingerfelt was called to that quick moving fire and says helicopter drops can make a huge difference.

Its a lot quicker at times then placing apparatus in the fire lines and having to drag hose and putting people in areas they shouldnt be in said Lingerfelt.

Last fall the state cut four full-time pilot positions, and then three other pilots left. The North Carolina Forest Service has only one pilot for the entire state, who is stationed in Kingston. The chief pilot told Channel 9 that North Carolina can request pilots from other states, but folks like Lail are worried about the response.

When you see it in a larger scale you know a whole community its very tragic and we definitely need something in place," Lail said.

The chief pilot is working to fill the open spots and if not filled by mid-summer, hopes to do so by the fall fire season.

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