Video of multiple air tankers working the Liberty Fire near Murrieta, CA

Above: The Liberty Fire east of Murrieta, California, December 7, 2017. Screengrab from the KTLA video.

(Originally published at 7 p.m. PST December 7, 2017)

KTLA shot some excellent stabilized video from a helicopter Thursday of the Liberty Fire that has burned about 300 acres northeast of Murrieta, California. This is a new fire that erupted this afternoon 17 miles north of another new fire, the Lilac Fire south of Temecula which was 3,000 acres at 7 p.m. PST.

The video, which is almost 2 hours long, has at least 8 shots of air tankers dropping. We skimmed through it quickly and noted where the drops occur, probably missing a few.

13:00 – DC-10
17:00 – BAe-146/C-130
35:30 – C-130
38:35 – BAe-146
49:15 –  S-2
1:05:00 – MAFFS
1:30:00 – 747
1:40:20 – MAFFS

CL-415’s scooping water at Castaic Lake

Above:  Air Tanker 260 scoops water at Castaic Lake December 6, 2017 . Photo by Robert Schwemmer.

(Originally published at 7:25 p.m. MST December 7, 2017)

Robert Schwemmer shot this video and the photos of water-scooping air tankers as they refilled at Castaic Lake as they were working the Creek Fire in Los Angeles, California. Thanks Robert!

Air Tanker 247
Air Tanker 247 scooping water at Castaic Lake December 6, 2017 . Photo by Robert Schwemmer.

T-247 and one other Quebec government scooper are under contract to Los Angeles County, while T-260 and two other Aero-Flite CL-415’s are working on a contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

Video: LA County helicopter drops on Skirball Fire

The Skirball Fire burned 475 acres early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles and forced the closure of the 405 freeway, one of the busiest highways in the nation.

Temporarily reconstituting the aerial firefighting fleets for Southern California wildfires

At least 16 air tankers of various types will be stationed in California Wednesday.

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.

Two C-130 MAFFS air tankers and the 747 activated for Southern California wildfires

File photo of MAFFS 1, based at Cheyenne, but is seen landing at Fresno, August 5, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.

(Originally published at 11:53 a.m. PST December 5, 2017)

Two California National Guard C-130’s have been activated by the state’s Governor to assist with the wildfires in Southern California. Two large fires have burned a total of  49,000 acres since Monday afternoon — the Creek Fire at Ventura and the Thomas Fire near Sylmar.

A spokesperson for the 146th Airlift Wing said the aircraft have been activated, they are being prepared, and the Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) are being installed, but they have not yet received the launch orders.

The MAFFS, which can be installed in a C-130 in a few hours, holds up to 3,000 gallons of retardant.

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, a BAe-146, and scoopers were used on one or more of the fires.

Very few air tankers on U.S. Forest Service contracts are still active this time of the year. Last Friday there were only four, all in southern California; two CL-415 scoopers and two MD-87’s.

four CL-415 cody wy
File photo of four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

The 747 SuperTanker has also been activated on a CAL FIRE Call When Needed contract and will fly from Marana, Arizona to McClellan near Sacramento today, arriving at about 3 or 4 p.m.

747 Supertanker
747 Supertanker at McClellan Air Field March 22, 2016.

The scoopers are due to end their mandatory availability period on December 6, but it is possible they could be extended due to the current fire situation in southern California. In September the USFS cancelled the last four years of the 5-year contract for the scoopers. The cancellation was to take effect on December 6, 2017.

Beaver Fire, MD-87, T-103, South Dakota,
An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

Aerial firefighters on the Oak Fire

Above: An MD-87 drops on the Oak Fire near Yucaipa, California. Screen grab from EPN106 OnScene.TV video. This image and the video below are used with permission.

(Originally published December 1, 2017)

EPN106 of OnScene.TV got some excellent shots of helicopters and air tankers dropping on the Oak Fire near Yucaipa, California November 29. It burned 99 acres off Oak Glen Road and was caused by a vehicle over the side of the road.

If the video below does not start, you can see it on YouTube.

Firefighters benefited from light winds, cooler temperatures, and the fact that the San Bernardino air attack base was only 12 air miles away.

The next day Neptune’s Air Tanker 12, a BAe-146 under contract with CAL FIRE, was released for the season.

Forest Service cancels contract for scooper air tankers

The cancellation became effective for fiscal year 2018 which began October 1, 2017.

Above: Air Tanker 261, a CL-415, at Medford, Oregon August, 2016. Photo by Tim Crippin.

(Originally published at 3:30 p.m. MDT November 29, 2017)

The U.S. Forest Service has cancelled the contract it had with Aero-Flite for two CL-415 air tankers. The company was awarded an exclusive use contract in 2016 for two of the scooper aircraft for five years.

USFS spokesperson Jennifer Jones said the cancellation occurred in September of this year, but a source familiar with the Aero-Flite operation told us it was not effective until the end of the Mandatory Availability Period (MAP) which is *December 6th, 2017. After that date the Aero-Flite CL-415’s can only be used on a Call When Needed contract, if they are available when the need arises. A total of four CL-415’s are on CWN contracts.

The Forest Service also cut back in 2017 on the number of Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use contracts, reducing them from 34 to 28.  And in June they cancelled the solicitation issued November 18, 2016 for the acquisition of one to seven new multi-engine air tankers. It was thought by some that this procurement would spend the $65 million appropriated by Congress in December, 2014 “for the purpose of acquiring aircraft for the next-generation airtanker fleet to enhance firefighting mobility, effectiveness, efficiency, and safety…”.

The cost of the 1,600-gallon Aero-Flite aircraft were very high. The daily availability rate was $42,285 with an hourly rate of $13,299. That daily rate was higher than all of the 21 large air tankers on contract, including the DC-10’s which carry up to 11,600 gallons. And only two large air tankers had a higher hourly rate — one of the DC-10’s and the USFS/Coast Guard C-130.

Jones told us that one of the reasons for the reduction in aerial firefighting aircraft was a lack of funding:

The U.S. Forest Service’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget does not include funding for Exclusive Use Water Scoopers. The U.S. Forest Service is providing the appropriate mix of aviation assets (Airtankers, water scoopers, helicopters, etc.) for wildfire suppression within available funding.

Congress has not approved a budget this fiscal year which began October 1, 2017. The federal agencies are operating on a continuing resolution which expires December 8, 2017. The budget proposed by the current administration included the reduction in the scoopers. Congress may or may not go along with the Executive Branch’s proposal.

Our calls and emails to Aero-Flite were not returned at the time this was published.

*We corrected the effective date of the cancellation of the contract from October 1, 2017 to December 6, 2017.