CalFire Fights Fire with DC-10 Jet

We had a dry winter, and it's been a dry spring. You can guess what that'll mean for the summer and fall. CalFire, the state's firefighting agency, already has. KPCC state capitol reporter Julie Small says it's added an impressive new weapon to its firefighting arsenal.

Julie Small: When California firefighters faced multiple blazes last summer, they called in the big guns. One big gun in particular: A DC-10 SuperTanker. CalFire's Michael Jarvis says you start with a wide body jumbo jet.

Michael Jarvis: It's a privately owned aircraft that was reconditioned and reconfigured. They put three tanks, total 12,000 gallons. That's about ten times the fire retardant we can drop with one of the planes that just flew over here, an S-2.

Small: The SuperTanker can drop its load in eight seconds. Jarvis says CalFire was the first to use the SuperTanker last July on during the Sawtooth blaze in Yucca Valley.

Jarvis: It's very large and got a lot of capability to hit a spot, lay a line, and give us a little bit of a chance to slow down a fire.

Small: That's great when you need to drown a fire that's burning through thousands of acres of brush. CalFire rents the SuperTanker when it needs it from the Victorville company that developed it. It needed it five times last season. Why not use it more often? Because there's a jumbo price for renting the jumbo jet.

Mike Padilla: Twenty-six thousand per an hour with a three hour minimum.

Small: CalFire's Mike Padilla says that may sound like a lot, but in the world of wildfires...

Padilla: It's a bargain.

Small: Padilla says CalFire spends roughly $40,000 to rent a helicopter that holds a mere fraction of the SuperTanker's deluge. He says the SuperTanker will be even more cost effective once they work out the kinks.

Padilla: Yeah. We had to be careful not to load the aircraft and not go on a fire. Once it takes off it can't land without jettisoning it. It's a pretty expensive return and don't drop. And finding a place to drop 12,000 gallons if somebody doesn't want it often is a problem as well.

Small: A grassroots organization in Topanga Canyon has been urging lawmakers to pay whatever it takes to keep the SuperTanker aloft. They say it'll be worth every penny during this very dry fire season.