Very large air tanker drops on 7-acre fire

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Most of us have seen videos of the DC-10 air tankers dropping massive loads of retardant stretched out over thousands of feet of fireline, as seen in this excellent video by Tim Walton, or this one on the Lost Fire, but the video below is very different. It shows Tanker 911 dropping a very small fraction of its 11,600-gallon load on a seven-acre fire below Pinal Peak near Globe, Arizona. It was uploaded to YouTube April 22, 2013 by ir7kbpf.


Thanks go out to Johnny

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17 thoughts on “Very large air tanker drops on 7-acre fire”

  1. SEAT or VLAT this is how potentially big fires remain small. How many gallons was this drop? My guess was 500 gallons.

    1. I’m with you, Johnny. I’d class this as overkill and, therefore, a waste of money. It was a very nice drop, though.

      Oh, and where I come from, these are hills, not mountains. “>D

      1. Don, please explain how it was a waste of money? Was it the 500 gallons of retardant? It is possible the air tanker dropped on other fires before this one.

        1. Dispatching the appropriate resources for the mission is critical to properly completing a mission in a safe, efficient, and effective manner. Sending a very expensive aircraft to drop 500 gallons (one SEAT flight) on a six acre fire is killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer. It would also appear that there was road access to the top of the ridge to access the large communications plant set up there, as well, leading one to surmise that a ground attack might have been the best option.

          Now, I know that there may have been a front coming or the prediction of winds. Could have been a red flag day. Maybe this this was the only tanker available at the time. Any number of “could haves” and “maybes” would mitigate the decision to send the most expensive tanker available to drop on a six acre fire, but I don’t have that information. On the surface, it appears to have been unnecessarily expensive.

          1. Don, are you aware that the hourly flight rate for the DC-10 on this new exclusive use contract is by far lower than the other six aircraft that were selected for contracts? The nearest competitor is $2,054 per hour more expensive than the DC-10, and the DC-10 is a little more than half the hourly rate for Minden’s BAe-146.

            But keep in mind the contract is complex, and the DC-10’s pricing structure, in order to compare apples to apples, is based on delivering 3,000 gallons, approximately the same as the other six aircraft — according to information I received from someone who is very familiar with the contracting process for next generation air tankers. There are additional specifics to cover the DC-10 dropping more than 3,000 gallons.

            But as you can see in the bid details, the Total Cost Estimate for the first year, which apparently takes this into account, has the DC-10’s total cost approximately in the same ball park as the others, which are, in millions, $36.4, $36.4, $38.9, $39.5, and $41.3. The DC-10’s was $43.2. But keep in mind that the DC-10 delivers about three to four times more retardatn than the maximum capacity of the other next gen air tankers, and six times more than Tanker 40, a BAe-146, if T40 is reloading at Silver City Airtanker Base on a 90 degree day.

            And, I have to agree with DiggerT. If there is any potential for a wildland fire to become very large it should attacked with overwhelming force. This can save money, property, and lives. A year ago I wrote my Prescription for keeping new fires from becoming megafires:

            Rapid initial attack with overwhelming force using both ground and air resources, arriving within the first 10 to 30 minutes when possible.

      2. Hey Don,

        Why does the boxer go for the knockout?
        Why do special ops double tap?
        Why might a full structure response show up at your house when only your bacon is on fire?

        The idea is to end the battle while the favor is in your court. Besides, how do you know that was 500 gallons? How about this: We’ll continue to fight fires and you can keep quarterbacking and second guessing from your hut in the Himalayan Range.

        1. Don, I don’t really want to get into a long drawn out discussion about this deal. But, as I recall the DC-10 was the only tanker available at the time. There is a road to the communications site but safety considerations (LCES) would preclude walking people downhill to a fire with potential to make an uphill run. I was the FMO on that district for 22 years and know the country quite well and I would not have let anyone try to go downhill to that fire.
          I’m done now.

  2. On my old district. That fire was last summer, just below Pinal Peak in the Pinal Mountains. Been there.

  3. Not stealing any of your thunder, Johnny

    BUT I would imagine the DC10 is “gonna” be showing for awhile until alllllll that “Next Gen” contracting ironed out.

    THEN it will make the DC10 look cheap after allllllllllllll the contracting fiasco

  4. I was working in SWCC at the time this drop was made and as I recall the DC-10 was either the only, or at least the closest, available. The idea was to keep the fire small and away from the communications structures that you see on the mountain top. One of which belongs to FAA and control approach and departure for Phx. Sky Harbor. I had my doubts at first, but in retrospect think it was a good call.

  5. IT WAS NOT A WASTE OF MONEY! This is what needs to be done when fire weather indicates a potential for escape. All I was implying is that the VLAT is a versatile air tanker. If the drop was 500 gallons the “10” was ready for another fire mission with 11,000 gallons on board, if this was his first drop. For those overtime folks don’t worry there will still be lots of $ this season.

  6. Well.. There’s two sides of that coin..

    Sure it might look too much to send a VLAT on a small fire… (You have to put it back in the operationnal context though).

    But… you could see it as a good tactical move based on the potential acreage if there was no Retardant to slow down/stop the spread. Midslope, wind, dry fuel…Crews? Other aircaraft available?

    Very nice drop.

  7. “BAe 146 frequently asked questions” Why do some tankers bases get overflown? Who makes the discision to overfly another tanker and how long will that take? Is the fire on the BLM or National Forest? Many times I’ve watched a F.S. tanker overfly us because we were on a BLM contract, or the other way around. Don’t kid yourself about “just five minutes difference”. Don’t play air tanker roulette, If the DC 10 is the closest to the breaking fire send him. If a SEAT or heltanker is closest, well you get the idea. If in doubt read Dr. Gabbert’s Rx for stopping new threating fires.

  8. You certainly hit a raw nerve here Bill! Early initial attack is the key lesson here. The consequence of procrastinating and not sending any resource is when costs start to blow out. Imagine if you had this mind set in Colorado of early initial attack would so much damage had been done and now spending huge amount of dollars trying to rectify a lack of forward planning?

    1. I wish the State of Colorado actually had significant initial attack capability. The State leaves actual fire fighting pretty much to the counties and individual fire protection districts.

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