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Erickson team fights wine-country fires

Erickson aircranes are frequent fliers wherever wildfires erupt.

The fires in California's wine country are no exception, with an aircrane nicknamed Jerry flying into the heat of the battle in and around Santa Rosa.

The aircrane is under contract with Cal Fire, the state agency coordinating firefighting, and began flying missions over the weekend.

The aircrane, based in Santa Rosa along with a six-man crew, has been deployed throughout Northern California this year. But with more than 2,000 structures already torched, 15 dead and more than 100 missing, Jerry and its crew couldn't have been better placed.

Three more Erickson aircranes are deployed in California, under contract with Los Angeles city, Los Angeles County and San Diego fire-protection agencies.

Jerry has been flying so many hours the past three or four days that two more pilots may be dispatched to provide respite for the present fliers, Erickson President of Commercial Aviation Andy Mills said.

"If the pilots flying there time out, they can rotate with the pilots down there," Mills said.

The missions are determined by Cal Fire, but the aircrane's unique capabilities make it the last line of defense for some areas.

"The aircrane's precision drops make it very good at structure protection, so it will get assigned to areas where there are a lot of threatened structures," Mills said.

The terrain and missions are similar to those Erickson crews fly in Australia.

"We fly anywhere to fires, from out in the bush to downtown Sydney," Mills said. "Both in Australia and California, fires have a tendency to blow up fast because of high winds."

Southern California also has seen fires flare up this week, causing agencies with Erickson helicopters to keep them close at hand.

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

A team from Erickson fights a wildfire Monday in Santa Rosa, California. [Courtesy photo]