Cities Asked to Leave Space for Firefighting Helicopters

Cities Asked to Leave Space for Firefighting Helicopters

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FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) -- Wildfire officials have asked Davis County's rapidly expanding communities to leave some open space where firefighting helicopters can refill their buckets.

Fire officials from cities and the U.S. Forest Service told Davis County mayors last week that open spaces used in the past to refill helicopter water buckets are disappearing under the pressure of development.

"Back in 1980, we used to have between 15 and 20 sites identified between Bountiful and North Ogden. We went back over those sites two years ago, and we had 10 that were gone," said Robert Tonioli, fire management officer for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

New home developments in Farmington and Centerville have closed off two refilling sites used as recently as last summer in the fight against wildfires.

"We would have been in deep doo-doo if we hadn't had those helicopters," Tonioli said.

He said orange 3,000- to 5,000-gallon reservoirs, known as "pumpkins," are used to refill the buckets. The sites must be flat and about 100 feet by 100 feet.

Additionally, the craft aren't allowed to carry water over homes or power lines. Since many ponds have homes around them, access to those also is a problem.

Mark Brunson, an associate professor in Utah State University's department of environment and society, said the land firefighters want is highly valued for residential development.

"What (homebuyers are) looking for very often is to get as close as they can to the nature that defines what the West is all about while maintaining the services that come from metro areas," he said.

Brunson said that traditionally there is rural land between the city and wild-land setting, but, "What we've done in the West is we have a settlement pattern where there is no buffer."

These homes on the edge of the wild lands often are the ones most endangered by wildfires.

Tonioli would like grassy fields left in future subdivisions. He said the sites could be used as play areas and also for helicopter ambulances. Other options are making sure fire hydrants are placed in cul-de-sacs.

"That would give us better access to a mountain and a landing site," he said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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