Above: File photo of Air Tanker 260, a CL-415, scooping water at Castaic Lake December 6, 2017. Photo by Robert Schwemmer.
(Originally published at 6:40 p.m. PDT August 10, 2018)
Two water scooping air tankers are being used on the Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest northwest of Lake Elsinore, California. After seeing Cathy Gregg’s tweet about the scoopers we checked Flight Radar 24 and spotted two of the CL-415’s, Tanker 261 (N392AC) and Tanker 260 (N389AC).
At about 6 p.m. local time both aircraft appeared to be headed to San Bernardino Airport. I don’t know which lake they are scooping out of but if it is Lake Elsinore, about a mile from the fire at its closest point, they could have some very short turnaround times dropping up to 1,600 gallons at a time. The Martin Mars, even though it was based at Elsinore, didn’t scoop water there — it got it from another lake in Riverside County; was it Perris or Diamond Valley?
If you want to see more file photos of these two air tankers, we’ve tried to tag them every time they showed up here: Tanker 260, and Tanker 261.
The exclusive use contracts that the U.S. Forest Service had for four CL-415’s were cancelled for this fiscal year which began in October, 2017. But they remained on Call When Needed Contracts, at a substantially higher daily and hourly rate. It is easy to blame the USFS for this decision since they issue the contracts, but the most likely guilty parties are our Representatives, Senators, and President, who did not supply adequate funding to maintain the same numbers of air tankers (large, very large, and multi-engine scoopers) that we had in FY 2017.
Above: Air tanker 52, a CV-580, departs Medford, Oregon for the Bybee Creek Fire in Crater Lake National Park. Photo by Tim Crippin.
Tim Crippin took these photos of CL-415s and CV-580s at the Medford, Oregon Airport August 1 and 2. Some of them were working on the Bybee Creek Fire in Crater Lake National Park which has burned 720 acres since it started on July 28.
Above: Air Tanker 262, a CL-415, on the ramp at Rapid City Regional Airport, June 3, 2016. @BlackHillsNF photo.
Two air tankers with water-scooping capabilities are now positioned at Rapid City Regional Airport following an assignment at Gaylord, Michigan. Tankers 261 and 262 can skim the surface of a lake scooping up to 1,600 gallons of water into their tanks. If a scoopable lake is near a fire they can put large quantities of water on the blaze, helping the firefighters on the ground (who actually put out the fire). The CL-415 aircraft typically work in pairs, one following the other as they refill the tanks and make the drops.
The agencies have previously scouted the lakes in the Black Hills and identified locations for the tankers to scoop, including Angostura Reservoir, Keyhole Reservoir, and Deerfield Lake.
The Black Hills National Forest (@BlackHillsNF) sent out a Tweet today asking recreationists to give them a wide birth:
Please allow CL 415 Scooper Planes using a lake or other body of water room to do work in wildfire suppression.
The air tankers are a national resource and are frequently moved around depending on wildfire potential. The assignment at Rapid City is only temporary.
It has been a fairly quiet fire season in the Black Hills so far, but the dispatch center has logged 69 wildland fires this year. Most were less than an acre but three of the more recent were 18, 20, and 193 acres. I imagine the firefighters working on the Storm Hill Fire near Hill City, South Dakota in April would have appreciated a little aerial support.
Above: Air Tanker 262, a CL-415, in Oklahoma, April 7, 2016. Photo by John Wilson.
John Wilson sent us photos of the two CL-415 water-scooping air tankers that are on U.S. Forest Service exclusive use contract. We were not sure which two AeroFlite aircraft were on the contract until we saw his photos. Now we know it is T-261 and T-262. We updated the 2016 contract list first published March 2, 2016.
John said the air tankers were seen near Bethel Acres, Oklahoma. They were most likely scooping water from Shawnee Twin Lakes in Pottawatomie County and then dropping the water on a fire a few miles to the south.
It was early evening and I was losing light but the Nikon handled it pretty well. I didn’t realize there was more than one aircraft until I started processing the images and noticed the tanker numbers.