Applying retardant to a forest fire near Chadron, 2012
Nebraska has a new tool for fighting wildfires – a single engine air tanker that arrived in Valentine July 15.
The tanker airplane, known as SEAT (single engine air tanker), is under contract to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.
It is available thanks to the Nebraska Legislature's passage earlier this year of the Wildfire Control Act, an act sponsored by Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis.
In all, three airport bases will be available to the plane -- in Valentine, Alliance and Chadron. Also, a mobile base can be moved to an airport near any forest fire that needs airdrops of fire retardant.
The airbases will be managed by the Nebraska Forest Service.
The air tanker will work with existing aerial fire suppression programs that have been successfully used for years.
Aerial applications are the first choice to fight grass and rangeland fires, where foam retardant is most effective.
SEATs are also effective in fighting forest fires, where their loads of heavy, slurry type retardant can penetrate tree canopies and help firefighters get control of flames.
The Legislature passed the Wildfire Control Act in the wake of massive blazes last summer that damaged property and strained budgets.
The effort to place more firefighting resources in remote corners of the state comes as forestry officials warn the state is likely to face more massive wildfires in the future, UNL said.
State forester Scott Josiah has said he expects Nebraska to generally have larger and more intense "mega-fires," citing heat, drought and climate change, as well as the spread of the highly flammable eastern red cedar tree.