Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Fighting fires from above: Big Bear Valley pilot fights fires around the Western U.S.

While many planes are grounded when forest fires strike, Mike Gremillion flies his directly into the path of the fire.

Gremillion, who lives and works in Big Bear Valley, has been a pilot for nearly 20 years. He became interested in aviation when he served as a crew chief for a B-52 while in the Air Force. He has served as a charter pilot, instructor and an in-flight air traffic controller during forest fires. Although he is based out of Portervilleduring the fire season, he also plans to open and operates a flight school at the Big Bear Airport.

Gremillion flies an Aero Commander 500 over forest fires, flying above the helicopters and other planes that work to put out fires with a series of coordinated water drops. Being above the traffic jam of aircraft below gives Gremillion a birds-eye view as well as the best radio signal in the area. He said the main role he plays is facilitating radio contact between the firefighters on the ground, the aircraft in the sky and the various agencies involved in the fires.

“We can put men into space, but we can’t send radio through a mountain,” Gremillion said. “Radio technology still operates on line of sight. We serve as a relay for radio contact.”

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