Supertankers Standing Guard Over California

The Cal Fire air program secured the use of the massive 747 Supertanker for the 2009 fire season according to Rim Of The World.Net. This amazing aircraft, with its 20,000 gallon payload joins Tanker910, the State contracted DC-10 behemoth in Victorville.
Both aircraft will be less than 45 minutes to any spot in Southern California.

Tanker 910 has already proven to be a tremendous asset during its two years of service. The DC-10 carries a 12,000 gallon payload.

If this is not good enough another firefighting industry giant will call Southern California home this season. The Village News reports the Martin Mars JMR3 waterbomber with a 7,200 gallon payload is scheduled to arrive from it’s home base in Vancouver British Columbia this week for positioning at Lake Elsinore.

The Martin Mars is a water plane and can scoop its load from a lake or bay making reloading quick and inexpensive. The Martin Mars is under contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

Cal Fire’s commitment to the additional Supertanker while welcomed is also puzzling. In an ordinary year it might be considered a budget buster. With the state essentially broke it begs the question why now?

Perhaps this is posturing by Cal Fire principals, pump the budget before being forced to submit revised numbers. I don’t know. Or maybe after crunching the numbers Cal Fire has decided extensive use of these weapons during initial attack can stop those $20 million campaign fires in their tracks, more than paying for the expensive bombers.

In any case I am all for extensive use of these firefighting weapons. Stomping out fires early for budget considerations is great but I view it from a firefighter safety standpoint.

The longer a campaign is drawn out the more firefighter injuries occur. Just look at the incident 209 reports for campaign fires. Injuries mount as the days wear on. Fatigue invites mistake, the numbers game catches up as acreage mounts and time on scene expands.

No price can be placed on safety.

I look forward to watching how these resources are put in play. I envy the guys and gals on the fire ground where these magnificent aircraft drop their loads. Imagine, between the three aircraft they can leave a trail of 40,000 gallons of water, retardant and gel.

For a look at the complete fleet of aircraft of aircraft at the disposal of Cal Fire click here.

Thanks to Michael E. Dubrasich of The Western Institute for Study of the Environment for the heads up!


  • Anonymous says:

    hmmm, $30,000 dollars a hour with a 3 hour guaranteed minimum usage. every time this DC-10 gets ordered up, taxpayers foot $90,000 dollars whether it gets uded or not. Too large to be tyruly effective, it's for "CNN moments" , to provide good shots for news. The 747 and the DC-10's, (thye have 2 now) just got their contarcts suspended by the State of Cali due to budget woes. They can still be ordered up as 'call-when-needed', though…remember last year when the 1st DC-10 flew so low it hit the wings on treetops and damaged the aircraft? 4100,000 repair cost, charged to the Fire, (taxpayers). For the cost of these giants, they could design and equip many smaller, more maneuverable tankers that would actually do some good in canyons or mountains…

  • Anonymous says:

    The Supertanker just arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska no doubt to help with the two large fires (over 250,000 acres each) that threaten the town of Nenena. Saweet! Can't wait to see this baby in action!
    – Kevin Alexander

  • Mike says:

    Nice article Mike D, thanks for sharing!

  • Mike D. says:

    For an interesting discussion about Canada's reliance on airpower to fight fires, see:

    Pyne, Stephen J. “The Solution is Aircraft”: Aircraft and the Political Economy of Canadian Forest Fires. American Review of Canadian Studies, 2006, pp 458-477.

    posted on the Net here:

  • Mike D. says:

    An Air Tractor AT-802 working the Terrace Mountain Fire near Kelowna, BC, flipped over and sank into Okanagan Lake while making a scoop Saturday, 7/25. The pilot managed to escape without major injuries.

    So smaller planes have certain difficiencies and limitations, too.

  • TheNet411 says:

    I am not in the firefighting industry but I do live in an area of Northern California that saw use of 910 last year. It is my understanding that these large aircraft have very limited applications in wildland firefighting. They make great airshow props and if you have a fire on a ridge or want to stop a fire from cresting a ridge, these aircraft will do the job. But when you have fires in canyons or drainages, these aircraft cannot get in to fight them. Smaller, more agile aircraft like the S-2 and P-3 are the true heros of the day when they get in there and stop a fire's progress before they get to ridges. At least, that's how it worked up here when 910 was involved in our fire. I would much rather see the aviation budget investing in more helicopters and smaller fixed wing aircraft rather than these enormous tankers that have limited applications.

  • Mike says:

    Loss of property, absolutely. It has always been Cal Fire's mission that initial attack is the most important phase of a wildland fire.

    Unlike the Feds who look at the fire as a whole before committing a commanding force, Cal Fire's mission is to make it black.

    Granted the U.S Forest Service serves more open lands so the option to "manage" fire exists.

    Cal Fire's dedication to the duel supertankers signals to me they intend to use them more often in the initial attack phase.

    Of course this season may decide which aircraft sets up best for the 2010-2011 season.

    It might be too much to ask for them to keep both.

  • Mike D. says:

    The costs of wildfire are much more than the suppression expenses. Cost-plus-loss can be 10 to 50 times suppression expenses alone.

    Analysis of the economic utility of firefighting must consider cost-plus-loss, not just direct expenses.

    Firefighter safety is an important consideration, but preventing losses is the real reason we fight fires in the first place.

  • Mike D. says:

    One comment I got and am passing along is "Wouldn't be nice to move at least one of these big planes to another part of the West with fire problems."

    Shows that the pros with experience are in agreement that big planes can work wonders, and that they could be useful in a lot of places. I suppose though, that with all the million-dollar homes at risk in SoCal, the Powers That Be have made some priority choices. I am not being cynical, just realistic. Fire suppression, like other govt activities, happens in a political context.

  • Mike says:

    Thanks for the support Mike.

  • Mike D. says:

    If the plan is to put the fire out, the big planes sure beat the heck out of an army of shovels.

    PS — passed the word on this post to some interested experts.