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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ranchers provide planes to fight Colorado wildfires

Thursday, June 27, 2002

One of the two aircraft, a Twin Engine Piper Seneca III, currently being used as air attack command centers in the Missionary Ridge wild fire near Durango, Colo., is owned by local ranchers Don and Lori Benedict of Sturkie. Thousands of acres are on fire and hundreds of homes have been evacuated as a result of the fire.

All firefighting crews including ground, helicopters and C-130 aircraft that drop the fire retardant are controlled from the Benedict's aircraft which operates as Mountain Air Inc. based at Baxter County Regional Airport.

Rescue workers are no longer trying to save individual homes, they are concentrating their efforts on saving subdivisions by dropping lines of retardant around the subdivisions, said Lori Benedict.

She explained that each craft flies for about three hours and then alternates between the two crafts. She added the air attacks supervisor and his staff accompany the pilot and direct the complete operation. The supervisor is in charge of watching wind direction and is responsible for making decisions about where the aircraft will drop the retardant. He also decides if homes need to be evacuated.

Benedict explained her company has been in business for over 10 years and has a contract with the forestry service.

The Mountain Air Pilot Fred Stone, of West Plains, Mo., formerly of Hardy, told Benedict the rescue workers don't expect to have the fire contained for another 30 days.

Stone attends briefings every morning from the National InterAgency Fire Coordinator Center who reports details of how the fires are changing and provides an outlook on weather conditions.

About 1,200 rescue workers are trying to contain the fires, Benedict said.

She added, "It's an awesome responsibility. Our entire company is very proud to be able to offer a service that saves lives and saves property."

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