Nebraska Agencies Team up to Fight Fires from the Air

June 21, 2021, 10 a.m. ·

Photo from the air at the June 11 fire detection flight
Photo from the airplane on June 11 flight where Peterson found three wildfires. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Emergency Management Agency)

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Weather in Nebraska is becoming hot and dry. If lightning strikes the ground, wildfires can flare up. The Civil Air Patrol provides planes and pilots for the Nebraska Forest Service to detect fires as early as possible. Most of the workers are volunteers.

Seth Peterson is an observer for the Nebraska Forest Service and said he recently spotted three wildfires.

“It’s really important to detect those fires as soon as we can while they’re small. The ones we caught this weekend out of the plane, they were about 1/10 of an acre when I found them and they were able to get on them really quick and get them suppressed,” he said. “If we don’t catch them soon, they can build into many, many acres, then at that point the volunteer fire departments are out there for the entire day, maybe multiple days, maybe a whole week.”

Peterson’s job is to look for fires from the air right after a lightning storm and give directions to local fire departments. Nebraska Forest Service is given a map of where lightning and rain occurred, providing them the most likely locations of fires.

Bryan Tuma, with Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said the Civil Air Patrol offers a variety of other services.

“We can also use them as a state resource for a variety of other issues, so we operate in an all-hazard environment. We have floods, fires, tornadoes. We have blizzards,” he said.

The patrol can also work as a search team following a natural disaster. Peterson said it’s rewarding to fly and also help prevent natural disasters.