Big plane sits while wildfires burn


One of the frustrations of fighting wildfires is how long it takes to get the resources deployed to fight them. It must be very frustrating for people like Laura Clements (above) whose home near Austin is no more.

The Associated Press reports one such problem with a huge resource today: The inability to get a huge aerial tanker into the air. The plane can be filled in eight minutes and its computerized, gravity-fed water dump system can release its entire load in just eight seconds. It creates a swath three-quarters of a mile long and 300 feet wide.

We’ve seen this plane before — in the southern California wildfires in 2006 and the 2009 Station fire in California:

But according to the Associated Press, while it’s “on scene,” it can’t yet be used:

Firefighters can’t use one of their biggest weapons against a devastating wildfire in Central Texas because they don’t yet have the tanks and pipes to fill a converted jetliner with fire retardant nor a pilot to fly it over the blaze.

The Texas Forest Service says the DC-10 arrived from California on Wednesday, but it won’t be used until at least Friday to battle the fire that’s destroyed nearly 1,400 homes. Agency spokeswoman Holly Huffman says the state doesn’t have the equipment to fill the plane and is awaiting the shipment from California.

Texas has used this plane before.

The company normally has only a 12 to 24 hour delay in setting up operations.But in a recent fire further north, it took almost a week to get it into operation and a lot of damage can happen in a week.

She says even if the plane was ready, authorities don’t have anyone to fly it because the pilot who was to conduct the drop has worked 14 straight days and must take two days off under policy.

The plane isn’t operated by the government, which might have more than just one pilot to fly it. It’s operated by a private company. It has been up near Yosemite fighting a wildfire started by a mobile home fire.

In another twist, the Austin Statesman reports that the city’s fire chief chose to remain in Colorado on a golf vacation while the wildfires burned. She said the fires weren’t in the city proper, though city firefighters were dispatched to help county efforts.