File photo of an Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss. Air Tractor photo.
While the Roosa Gap Fire was burning in southern New York state, fire officials ordered an air tanker from Canada, an Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss single engine aircraft capable of scooping water from a lake.
Air tankers are rarely used in New York. In fact, one of the news reports we saw about the fire said this was the first time one had been used in the state, which is not true, of course. One of the stories that wildland firefighters still like to tell was a political battle about air tankers during the 1995 Sunrise Fire that eventually burned about 7,000 acres in the state on Long Island.
Six small air tankers were being used effectively on the fire, but a U.S. Senator from New York, Alfonse M. D’Amato, insisted that military C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) aircraft were needed.
This incident may have been the origin of the term, “CNN drop”.
Here’s what we wrote about the incident in 2012:
…The fire is infamous among wildland firefighters for the battle between a U.S. Senator from New York, Alfonse M. D’Amato, and the Type 1 Incident Management Team running the fire. D’Amato called President Bill Clinton, who was vacationing in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and told him that he wanted military C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tankers to help put out the fire. (As a side note, that First Family vacation was in itself an Incident for the local parks and national forests, and the impacts of it were managed by a National Park Service Incident Management Team, with this author as Planning Section Chief).
After talking to the president, D’Amato held a news conference, telling reporters that the C-130s were on the way. But the IMTeam had not ordered any large air tankers, and the fires were nearing containment using only some smaller air tankers and 12 helicopters.
D’Amato went to Long Island, and wearing a Fire Chief’s turnout coat, met with several high-ranking FEMA officials, Department of Agriculture executives, and the IMTeam. He was told the C-130s were not needed on the fire. The Senator vehemently insisted, and ultimately a request was placed for two C-130 air tankers from an Air National Guard base in North Carolina, along with a third plane carrying support personnel.
When the aircraft arrived, the fire was contained, but an area was found that had a little grass still burning near a highway, with plenty of room for TV trucks. A C-130 was directed to drop there, but before it could release its load a warning light came on in the cockpit and it had to return to the airport. The second C-130 was ordered to make the drop on the still-smoldering grass, and it did, to the delight of the media and Senator D’Amato.
This incident may be one of the first times the term “CNN Drop” was used to describe an air tanker drop whose primary objective was to placate local residents, politicians, and the media.