Helicopter pilots helping spot, combat Alabama wildfires

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) -- A number of agencies are working together to help combat all the recent wildfires locally and around the state.

While firefighters have been battling those fires on the ground, helicopter crews have been providing assistance spotting them from the air.

It's been a busy week for helicopter pilots who fly for the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office. Veteran pilot Ronald Hampel says his crews have flown five wildfire missions since Saturday.

"We work a two week stand-by here, the pilot and the tactical flight officer both are on stand-by. And we respond to law enforcement calls and firefighting calls. Anything that affects public safety, we can get called out on. We are glad we can provide help to firefighters battling these fires," Hampel said.

Four days ago, fire destroyed nearly 300 acres of land in Brookwood. Some homes had to be evacuated, but no property damage was reported. Local firefighters and the Alabama Forestry Commission battled the blaze on the ground while the sheriff's helicopter pilots flew in the air to make sure ground crews were in the right area to fight the fire.

"Of course we give the working personnel on the ground a different perspective, so we can spot the hotspots where they occur, then we can direct the ground resources to that area to deal with like bulldozers and the firefighters on the ground."

Hampel says technology has been helpful when dealing with the wildfires. His helicopter has a mapping system that uses GPS coordinates to help pinpoint the fire location. Once that information is collected, he communicates with firefighters. The veteran pilot says his crew is on standby in case they get called out for more wildfires.

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