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Aerial firefighter kisses flames in Delta wildfires

Fear plays an important role. The day I lose my fear, I need to stop working. Awareness helps you avoid mistakes and tension is a good symptom. We use that fear and tension to avoid flying too low or comprising the safety of the plan, the operation, and the people on the ground.

  • 2 months ago
  • December 8, 2022
3 min read
Aerial firefighter Sandro Peisino soars in his hydrant plane above a Delta wildfire Aerial firefighter Sandro Peisino soars in his hydrant plane above a Delta wildfire | Photo courtesy of Peisino's team
Interview Subject
Sandro Peisino, 55, serves as an agricultural pilot. He conducted fumigation flights before becoming an aerial firefighter in the Delta.

He flies a hydrant plane which is a civil aircraft contracted by Argentina from a private company. He says the National Ministry of Environment invests between $3,000 and $5,000 per flight hour for these machines and their pilots.
Background Information
The islands of the Paraná Delta suffer fires daily. The wetland area sits amongst the convergence of the major rivers – the Parana and the Delta. The area has become more prone to fires as the water in the river dropped to a low.
The ongoing fires in Rosario threaten the wetland ecosystem, human life, and the transport of essential grains in Argentina.

SANTA FE, Argentina ꟷ After loading a small plane with 3,000 liters of water, we take off. A radio call comes in from the brigadistas below. They ask in desperate voices for our support. We spit the water out over the fire at high speed, nearly touching the flames. As a member of the combatant corps, I help fight the fire, hoping to cool the burning area so it fails to ignite again. From the air, we support the brigade members on the ground.

Persistent lack of rain for months affects the territories in the Delta where fires break out. Our hydrant planes serve as an essential tactical tool in quelling the flames. On the ground, the brigade members work impressively. They hold back and divert the fire so it can be extinguished. We moisten the area, decreasing the power of the fire.

Soaring above a hellish scene of fire and smoke

In my career, I originally dedicated myself to fumigation flights. During a fumigation flight, we fly just off the ground at a high speed, facing much less risk than flying over flames. However, fighting fires from the air – a B-grade job – pays very well. Because of climate change, the fires repeat more often and take more and more time. The Delta is not the first fire I fought.

Last summer I worked in both the Delta and Corrientes. Flying above a fire makes me think of entering hell. The images seem similar. You witness smoke, flames, waterspouts, planes and helicopters, and brigade members down below.

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Because we face a very complex environment, we plan everything out carefully before takeoff, and we rely on good weather conditions. We do not fly in every situation. A fire has a head and tail. The brigade members work on the east and west flanks, and where they have good visibility. We work where we can, where the flames, wind, and smoke travel too fast.

Scenes of the Delta wildfire from a hydrant plane | Photo courtesy of Peisino’s team

Often, a smoke screen between the ground and the plane causes the pilot to lose visibility of the brigade. We work in radio contact with the boys down below. They tell us, “A little more to the right,” for example, helping us determine when to release the water.  

Fear plays an important role. The day I lose my fear, I need to stop working. Awareness helps you avoid mistakes and tension is a good symptom. We use that fear and tension to avoid flying too low or compromising the safety of the plan, the operation, and the people on the ground.

Read more from Orato World Media: Forest firefighter in Honduras trapped in flames, learns to live again

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