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Our aviation unit recently provided mutual aid support on a unique fire at the Southwest Florida International Airport. A vehicle fire in the rental car lot had spread to hundreds of cars, creating a brushfire-like situation with vehicles. When Charlotte County’s UH-1 arrived on-scene, a Florida Forest Service helicopter was already there and welcomed the help of an additional firefighting asset. The fire was moving much like a traditional brushfire, however the thick toxic smoke obscured vision more than usual, and the fire was sustaining even with multiple drops of 350 gallons. There were traditional brushfire ground operations like dozers cutting fire


76 July/Aug 2020


lines, but in this case the fire lines were cut into rows of vehicles and the dozers were not traditional firefighting dozers used by the forest service; they were non-tracked construction dozers.


It quickly became obvious this was a unique kind of fire. Water had little effect on the fully involved vehicles. The dozers were creating mountains of exploding and burning vehicles on which water drops had no effect. Traditional fire engines and brush trucks were having trouble making their way through the maze of vehicles that were being repositioned out of danger by the rental car company.


Flying the Charlotte County helicopter, I focused water drops on the perimeter of the vehicle fires, effectively stopping the spread when the fully engulfed vehicles started to explode. I had experienced exploding vehicles under my helicopter as an OH-58D pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on this experience, I was able to keep the helicopter at a safe altitude while staying effective with the water drops.


Good communication with the Florida Forest Service helicopter was key to a successful multi-agency, multi-aircraft operation. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Forest Service had


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