Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf
The "Explorer" is the command ship overseeing a fleet of smaller ships in the burn box. Two planes act as spotters to guide boats to heavy crude and calm seas.
Skimming boats dragging flame-resistant boom collect oil - like raking a pile of leaves - and push it into a target area for burning that's 10 miles long, 10 miles wide. That's the burn box.
"This is the first time we've ever used fire-resistant boom on a major spill event," Alan Allen, an oil spill consultant, said.
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Information from ships inside the burn box gets relayed to a command center in Houma, La., where coordinators watch in real time images of the day's burns along with all skimming operations around the area of the gushing well.
"Once the oil reaches the surface, that's our responsibility to do everything we can to minimize the amount of oil that could reach shore," Coast Guard Capt. Meredith Austin, deputy incident commander, said.
Once the oil's in place inside the boom box, a hand-held flare ignites the fire. Once lit, flames burn as much as 98 percent of the captured oil.