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Steve Aiu

In addition to rescuing stranded hikers and paddlers, this senior helicopter pilot with the Honolulu Fire Department battles Oahu's biggest wildfires.


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photo by Olivier Koning


When we get the call, we look at weather conditions and load up the equipment we need in the aircraft, like the Bambi bucket, which holds 125 gallons of water. Usually, it takes 15 to 25 minutes to get to the brushfire. We have another aircraft that follows us that has fuel so we can stay out there all day.

If we see a 5-acre fire, to us, that's a small barbecue. In the case of the Waialua fire [in August], which burned about 7,000 acres, I saw that and knew, I'll be here several days.

We'll use a water source that's close-the ocean, reservoirs. The aircraft that follows us carries a 3,000-gallon portable tank. We can fill it up and place it as close to the fire as possible. We try to keep our turnaround times to two or three minutes, from the time we pick up water to when we pick up again.

At the Makaha fire in October, we had four aircrafts flying. We all coordinate and fly in a pattern, so everybody's safe. Visibility is a big thing. The smoke coming up can be a problem. We try not to drop water at night, because it's harder to see power lines.

Sometimes, we fly for 12 hours out there. If we're not there, the guys on the ground have a harder time. You never know when a brushfire is done. We always do a surveillance flight the next morning to see if it's still smoldering. Even if it's not, we'll still come back again to see if something flared up. You never know.
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