Above: S2 air tankers at CAL FIRE facilities at McClellan, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Typically in December the number of air tankers that are active on a daily basis declines to numbers much lower than what is seen during the busy part of the wildfire season. Tankers go off contract or beyond their mandatory availability period and many of them begin maintenance programs. The 66,000 acres burning in the Thomas, Rye, and Creek Fires in Southern California could test the ability of the fire management agencies to mobilize enough aviation assets to fill the requests from the firefighters in the field.
This afternoon we collected information about the fixed wing assets that are expected to be available beginning Wednesday.
CAL FIRE has 14 S-2 air tankers, 9 OV10’s, 1 DC-7, and multiple helicopters ready to go. A Neptune Aviation BAe-146, T-12, had completed its exclusive use period but is being reactivated on a Call When Needed contract. A DC-10 and a 747 will be based at San Bernardino and McClellan, respectively. Coulson will supply two C-130’s on a CAL FIRE contract. One of them, T-131, was loaded with equipment and supplies in order to depart today for their contract in Australia, but with approval of the Australian fire authorities they unloaded the airplane and it will be ready to support CAL FIRE by 0700 on Wednesday. Coulson’s T-133 is having its internal retardant tank re-installed and will also be on site in California Wednesday.
Modular Airborne FireFighting System: Two California National Guard MAFFS C-130’s have been activated by the state’s Governor to assist with the wildfires in Southern California.
Los Angeles City and County: Between the two agencies they have 8 helicopters and two CL-415 scooping air tankers. The winds were too strong yesterday and today to use the fixed wing aircraft.
U.S. Forest Service: Two CL-415 scooping air tankers, two MD-87 air tankers, and two RJ85 air tankers will be on duty Wednesday.
Summary: 14 S-2’s, 2 Very Large Air Tankers, 8 large air tankers, two MAFFS C-130’s, and four scooping air tankers — plus we’re guessing 15 to 25 helicopters.
With the very strong Santa Ana winds currently blowing in Southern California it can be difficult to use fixed wing aircraft over the fires. Air tankers have to fly low and slow, and usually over rough terrain. Strong winds can make this unsafe and the retardant can also be blown far off the target. However on Tuesday, S-2’s, MD-87’s, scoopers and a BAe-146 were used on one or more of the fires.
This article was corrected to say that air tankers were used on one or more of the fires on Tuesday.