The air tankers assigned to the El Dorado Fire are instrumental in aerial firefighting and slowing the spread of the fire.
“A series of American wide-body jet air tankers, which have been in service as an aerial firefighting unit since 2006,” said Rebecca Miller, U.S. Forest Service public information officer. “The aircraft are used to fight wildfires. The air tankers utilized the San Bernardino Air Tanker base at the San Bernardino International Airport for loading fire retardant during the El Dorado Fire and other fires in Southern California. This year, the air tankers at the San Bernardino Air Tanker base have dropped 3.5 million gallons of fire retardant on various fires in California. So far, the air tankers have dropped 277,319 gallons of fire retardant on the El Dorado Fire.”
A series of American wide-body jet air tankers, which have been in service as an aerial firefighting unit since 2006, are converted from wide body McDonnell Douglas DC-10 passenger jetliners.
“The ‘Very Large Air Tanker’ (VLAT) carries 10,000 gallons of fire retardant and the large air tankers carry 501 up to 10,000 gallons of retardant,” said Miller. “The San Bernardino Air Tanker base is equipped to support the large air tankers. The two other locations are at Fox Field in Palmdale, and Sacramento McClellan airport. The VLAT is staffed with three to five members on board the aircraft, and one parking/security manager and two loaders at the base.”
The San Bernardino Air Tanker base is set up with portable mixer tanks. Phos-Chek fire retardant is manufactured as dry powders or as concentrated liquids, with components of soap, fertilizer and diluted with water prior to use. The retardant is applied ahead of wildfires to homes by aerial firefighting units, either fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft.
Why the red color?
“The Phos-Chek fire-retardant has an added color to visually aid the pilot where the drop pattern is located, with assistance of lead plane dispensing a smoke trail to mark the drop during the fire. The VLATs or large air tankers typically make a drop and reload in 30 to 45 minutes, depending on traffic at the San Bernardino Air Tanker base,” said Miller.
The air tankers on the El Dorado fire displayed a remarkable air show of aerial firefighting.
“It is interesting to see the size of the plane flying close to a mountain and dropping Phos-Chek,” said local resident Jesse Dinkel. “It is amazing. The pilots have to have nerves of steel. It is unbelievable what it takes to do that.”
Other residents were also thankful for the Phos-Chek drops.
“When I look at the hillside and see the pattern of Phos-Chek and what was saved, I realize how instrumental the air tankers were to saving our community,” said Dee Dee Pine, a Yucaipa resident.
The El Dorado fire is estimated at 22,597 acres with 68 percent containment, as of Tuesday, Sept. 22.
“Damage assessment teams have completed assessments in the Oak Glen area. Residences - four destroyed and two damaged; Minor structures/outbuildings: six destroyed, and four damaged,” said Miller. “The FAA has issued a ‘Safety No Fly Zone’ for civilian aircraft around the El Dorado Fire. This includes all types of personal hobby drones. Remember, if you fly, we can’t.”
And the flying is dangerous.
“The pilots flying the air tankers in very treacherous, mountain terrain are doing an amazing job,” said Rick Strobaugh, a Yucaipa resident. “The destruction would be even worse without them.”