For First Time Ever In March, Air Tankers Arrive In New Mexico

Officials said this is the earliest fire season New Mexico has ever had.

For the first time ever in March, air tanker planes are stationed in Albuquerque, on call for one of the earliest fire seasons in the state's history, Action 7 News reported.

With the early season comes more dangers, but fire officials and tanker pilots said they are more prepared than ever before.

Bill Waldman is an air tanker pilot who helps out firefighters on the ground.

"When people ask me my occupation, I usually tell them I'm a wild-land firefighter," Waldman. "The aircraft is the tool that I use."

Waldman said his job is rewarding and challenging at the same time.

"That's the real satisfaction, knowing you're helping people and the times and they say those retardant drops really saved them," Waldman said.

Waldman said he has to be on standby nine hours each day and must be ready to fly at a moment's notice.

"From the time they hand us flight information, we have 15 minutes to get airborne," he said.

There are 17 heavy air tankers in all and two of them are stationed in "Region 3," which includes New Mexico and Arizona.

"Right now, the highest fire danger by energy release component and fuel load is Arizona and New Mexico," Waldman said.

Still, Waldman said he and the crews are more prepared than ever to put out wildfires.

"This is the best aircraft we have ever had in the industry," Waldman said. "It puts more retardant on the fire in a day than anything we have ever had."

This fire season, the tankers have been used to drop retardant in the Silver City area.

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