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Wildfire show and tell: LA County shows off water-dropping planes and choppers

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

Canadair Super Scooper releasing its payload of water in a demonstration at the Van Nuys Airport 9-4-2012. It can also drop fire-retardant foam. Jerry Gorin

With wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest and in Northern California, Los Angeles County showed off the fire-fighting aircraft it leases at the Van Nuys Airport on Tuesday.

Two "Super Scooper" airplanes fly low and slow and dump 1,600 gallons of water at a time. Two Erickson Air-Crane helicopters drop almost 2,700 gallons of water at a time. The total cost to lease the Super Scooper planes and the Air-Crane choppers: more than $5 million a year.

L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said that the county will dispatch the aircraft on every brush fire this season.

"Both of them," he said. "The SuperScooper, the Erickson Sky Crane and our own helicopters to ensure that we can get as much water on the fire as quickly as possible to knock it down. So every time there's a fire we dispatch them; if they're not needed we send them back."

The Super Scoopers have the capacity to drop water in tandem; they have quick turnaround, Osby said. "The advantages of our helicopters over the Super Scoopers is that sometimes, when you're dropping in steep canyons and next to structures, they can slow down and have more strategic drops," he added.

Both Osby and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky stressed that fire prevention is also vital. When you see the big planes overhead, it's often too late, and the houses that tend to be saved are the ones whose owners take the time to do the required brush clearance.

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