As firefighters on the ground continue efforts to get a handle on the West Mims Fire on the Georgia-Florida border, the attack from the air has intensified.
The Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT), a DC-10 fitted with a retardant delivery system, arrived Tuesday afternoon but was only able to make one fire retardant drop before low visibility due to settling smoke made subsequent air operations unsafe, officials said.
The aircraft made two 12,000-gallon retardant drops on Wednesday. Extreme conditions are expected to continue through the rest of the week, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees and winds gusting to 20 mph forecast — Red Flag Warnings are also expected to be issued in the area.
The blaze remains the largest and most active currently burning in the U.S., having already charred about 144,000 acres. It remains just 12 percent contained.
Above: A helicopter makes a water drop next to the road in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on the West Mims Fire. Photo via InciWeb.
Additional air resources arrived on Tuesday to join crews battling the 140,000-acre West Mims Fire on the Georgia-Florida border.
The Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT), a DC-10 fitted with a retardant delivery system, arrived Tuesday afternoon but was only able to make one fire retardant drop before low visibility due to settling smoke made subsequent air operations unsafe, officials said. The aircraft is capable of dumping 11,600 gallons (44,000 liters) of chemical fire retardant in a single run, and it joins more than 700 firefighters and support personnel working to contain the blaze with bulldozers, helicopters and smaller planes.
The DC-10 is stationed in Chattanooga, Tenn., hundreds of miles away from the fire. Though clear across the entire state of Georgia, that location is the closest airport rated to handle the needs of a place its size, officials said.
Crews caught a break on Tuesday — the fire wasn’t as active as it had been of late, though temperatures still hit 96 degrees with relative humidity hovering about 19 percent.
An inadvertent release of retardant occurred along a five-mile long path near Lake City, Florida.
(UPDATED at 4:09 p.m. MDT April 19, 2017)
On Tuesday April 18 one of the three large air tankers working on the West Mims Fire on the Georgia/Florida border reported issues while in flight and could not actuate the gate which allows retardant to be released. While returning to the tanker base, one of the tank’s gates had a malfunction, allowing approximately 40 gallons of retardant to be released intermittently along a five mile path, Dan Synder, President of Neptune Aviation told us.
The aircraft that had the problem was Neptune’s Tanker 41, a BAe-146, according to Mike Terry, the Air Operations Branch Director on the fire. On Tuesday it dropped 5,951 gallons. It’s not clear if that included the inadvertent drop. The BAe-146’s can carry up to 3,000 gallons.
The Incident Management Team is advising anyone who was affected by the retardant to call the West Mims Fire Information Line at 904-452-4627.
The West Mims Fire has burned 21,790 acres in Florida and Georgia since it started April 6, 2017. Most of the fire is in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, John M. Bethea State Forest, and Osceola National Forest.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Willard and Tom.