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When do fire managers deploy aircraft?

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Planes or helicopters are used if a wildfire is burning too intensely to send in ground forces, or if aircraft are the best way to deliver water or retardant, Lane said.

"You want to hit a fire quick so it stays small," Lane said.

The goal is to keep them from erupting into megafires. Cal Fire, California's firefighting agency, keeps an average of 95% of blazes to 10 acres (4 hectares) or less.

But Lane said aircraft alone are usually not enough to extinguish a fire. "It takes boots on the ground."

Aircraft also can face numerous visibility limitations when trying to make water drops on a wildfire.

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