Environment & Science

Why aren't Super Scoopers fighting the Blue Cut Fire?

August 6, 2016: A Super Scooper arrives at the Van Nuys airport.
August 6, 2016: A Super Scooper arrives at the Van Nuys airport.
Gene Blevins/LA DailyNews
August 6, 2016: A Super Scooper arrives at the Van Nuys airport.
A DC-10 air tanker drops fire retardant in Duarte on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Twin fires have continued to burn in the San Gabriel Valley.
Nick Ut/AP

Super scoopers may not be so super for every situation.

Two of the hefty, water-dropping aircraft arrived in Southern California more than a week ago, ready to help battle the region's blazes. So why aren't they being deployed to fight the massive Blue Cut Fire currently scorching the Cajon Pass?

"The Super Scoopers, although they are a great resource, what we have in terms of aircraft works better," Bob Poole with the San Bernardino National Forest tells KPCC.

The Forest Service — one of four agencies jointly overseeing efforts to quash the Blue Cut Fire — is relying instead on 15 helicopters, 10 air tankers and two DC-10 airplanes. That's partly because of the fire's location.

"We turn around the equipment much quicker with those retardant-dropping planes than we would using the super scooper, which has to go a much longer distance to pick up water," Poole says.

If San Bernardino officials want to borrow a super scooper, they'll need to make a request for mutual aid — something fire departments commonly do with large fires.

In fact, they've already done that and L.A. County Fire Department sent four strike teams — each of which includes five fire engines and one battalion chief — to help fight the Blue Cut Fire.

Richard Licon with L.A. County Fire tells KPCC, "They'd have to ask for the aircraft specifically and the higher ups would go ahead and okay that. It would have to go to our chiefs and then possibly our board of supervisors."

As far as Licon knows, no other firefighting agency has asked to borrow L.A. County's super scoopers, which are leased from Canada.

Poole says even if San Bernardino had its own super scooper, they probably wouldn't have used it in this situation: "It's got nothing to do with the owner of it. It has to do with what's most appropriate. We want to use strategies and tactics that provide for the best chance of success."

But that doesn't mean they won't ask the L.A. County Fire Department to borrow a super scooper in the future.

"We have a toolbox and in that toolbox there's a number of tools we have available," Poole says. "It may not always be the appropriate tool today but tomorrow things may change."