Even though the B747-400 SuperTanker can carry almost double the amount of water or fire retardant — almost 20,000 gallons — compared to the next largest SuperTanker, don’t expect to see it fighting fires in Western Oregon anytime soon.

While there could be other parts of the state and country where topography would allow the B747-400 to be a useful tool, it wouldn’t necessarily work between the rolling hills of Douglas County, according to Kyle Reed of the Douglas Forest Protective Association.

Reed said even if the aircraft were available, it wouldn’t be able to fly over the 16,436-acre Horse Prairie Fire in Douglas County due to the terrain and the smoke that’s clung to the hills over the past few weeks. During the first part of September, Reed said, the hills a quarter-mile away from fire camp in Riddle were not visible.

“I think the topography in Southwest Oregon would make for some difficult drops where it would be harder for them to use it efficiently. They may be able to drop on the ridge tops still, but wouldn’t be able to drop down inside the canyons,” Reed said. “Think of the North Umpqua River, the South Umpqua River and the Cow Creek Canyon where this one was, and imagine a 747 down there trying to make a drop. That’s not going to happen.”

Reed said although the SuperTanker might be bigger and able to hold more water and fire retardant, it doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for the job.

Currently, 776 personnel are working on the Horse Prairie Fire, using single-engineered tankers and several larger tankers.

The Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Management Teams working on the fire have ordered a Very Large Air Tanker, VLAT, but for weeks the area has been socked in with smoke. Aircrafts ordered and delivered for use on the fire have been grounded due to the smoke, but the past few days have been clearer, allowing aviation services to commence.

Jamie Knight, spokeswoman for the ODF Incident Management Team 1, said the smoke conditions have since eased up enough over the weekend so aircrafts and helicopters could be used for supervising the fire from the air and suppressing it with water drops.

“At this point, if crews have a hard-to-access spot where they need extra water and it would be quite an undertaking to get it there, that’s what those helicopters are for,” Knight said. Several helicopters are still available for use on the Horse Prairie Fire, while some have been sent to work on other fires in the state.

ODF tested out a infrared camera for a few smoke-filled days, which allowed crews to see through the smoke and fly an aircraft higher above the area where it wouldn’t risk running into a hillside. Reed said the camera caught a couple of spot fires before they grew too large, which firefighters wouldn’t have been able to do without the camera.

“The neat thing about firefighting is the theory and how to do it hasn’t really changed much throughout the years, but the tools and technology have improved leaps and bounds,” Reed said. The DFPA primarily uses cameras instead of lookouts to detect fires, and Reed has been seeing a trend toward more satellite detection and thermal imaging.

“The SuperTanker thing has been a crazy debate all over Facebook the last couple weeks, and it’s another tool in the tool box,” Reed said. “Is it the right tool for every place? No, but it is available out there for firefighters, potentially, for where it is needed.”

Reporter Emily Hoard can be reached at 541-957-4217 or ehoard@nrtoday.com. Or follow her on Twitter @hoard_emily.

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Outdoors and Natural Resources Reporter

Emily Hoard is the business, outdoors and natural resources reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4217 or by email at ehoard@nrtoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoard_emily.

(9) comments

exdep425

***My first job after high school was as at the Ukiah, CA, CDF (now CalFire) Air Attack Base, loading fire tankers. It has been a long time, but they quit using Borate in 1970 and switched to FosCheck. I believe it was water, some type of fine powdered red clay and powdered fertilizers. It weighed 10 lbs per gallon and the average tanker took about 1,000 gallons. We had a TBM, an F7F and PB4Y2. They would send those tankers on nearly every fire even if it was just a few acres and those fires would get slammed down to ashes. For some reason the feds spend too much time thinking and too little time reacting. You look at DFPA and they seemed to hit Horse Prairie with everything they had, quickly and as the public would expect. And they also let the public know how they were fighting it, with what tools, that they let private loggers help and the kind of info that was important. The Brookings fire went from 1/4 acre, to an absolute federal idiocy.

sparkingthebrain

An environmentally preferable fire extinguishing chemical was used with very good results in the SuperTanker in Chile earlier this year.

Based on the drop properties of the chemical/water mix when it was being used in Chile, it was believe that the drop would be effective from a higher altitude. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to test the theory.

In late January 2017/early February 2017, Global SuperTankers 747 was called to Chile to fight wildland fires. 265 gallon totes of the chemical were picked up by the 747 in Houston and carried in the lower hold of the 747. Once the tanks on the main deck are filled with water, 70 gallons of the chemical was pumped from the lower hold into the filled tanks on the main deck. Because the chemical goes straight into solution, there was no infrastructure required other than the water supply.

The chemical was used in direct attack on the fires and was credited with saving infrastructure (cell towers, high power transmission lines, etc.) as well as the town of Llico, Chile – check youtube SuperTanker Llico. The chemical had previously had the same result when used in Single Engine Air Tankers – the chemical was loaded into the onboard foam tank and injected into the water. All reports were that the fires were extinguished as the chemical was dropped on them.

As some additional background, the chemical is used in direct attack and is field proven to extinguish fires 70% to 90% faster than water or water mixed with other chemicals. There have been no reports of fires rekindling.

The chemical’s “in use” cost is approximately 1/3rd the cost of gels and about 10% the in use cost of retardant. In addition, using the chemical does not require a mixing base which typically costs between US$4,000 to US$10,000 per day to operate.

andersson

sparklingthebrain apparently either was there for the Chile trip or works for the company ... but the claims of this "special chemical" saving infrastructure in Chile (or elsewhere) aren't really verifiable -- versus dropping 20,000 gallons of plain water on the same targets. AND, the manufacturer says it's environmentally harmless, but I've not seen any independent (much less USFS or DOI) evaluation of it. Cheerleading for "new wonder drugs" (whether miracle drugs or snake oil) is easily bandwagoned onto in smoky crisis times, but that doesn't make manufacturer claims accurate.

andersson

"Global SuperTankers 747 was called to Chile to fight wildland fires" ... NOTICE there that sparklingthebrain doesn't mention who called the company to Chile. It was not the government of Chile, nor its equivalent of the U.S. Forest Service, nor was it the president or forest management agency in that country. The Chilean government did not commit any funds for the use of the 747 SuperTanker. That was funded by private organizations, including Ben Walton and his wife Lucy Ana (of WalMart).

Larry

https://www.facebook.com/globalsupertanker/

Larry

You mention one fire when there are many more fires burning. Are all these fires inaccesable. Why didn't they use it sooner when the fires were smaller. They knew of the Chetco fire at 10,000 acres. The super tanker with its 20,000 gal lands can fly as low as 400' and has pressurized ejectors to disperse it. Instead of a " smoke" screen why not quote the owner of the plane. He said he is ready. They have been utilized in other countries Israel, Mexico and now The Republic of California is using it. The country of Georgia has asked them to go there.....It would be nice if liberal news outlets would quit writing faction.

TLH-ALB1

Sorry Reed, but that is a flat out lie and very misleading the people of Oregon. Fact is, the aircraft has been used in rough terrain in Europe successfully. Fact 2, is the aircraft is not available for Oregon to use at this time; it is being used in California. Fact 3, not taking care and fighting of fires when they smaller and allowing them to become "un-manageable" where heavy smoke and poor visibility are "another excuse" it can't be used. Roseburg News-Review...please do a little more research into an article before it is printed.

exdep425

***TLH. Have you by chance followed the Brookings fire? The Currypilot.com paper is about the only close, daily coverage of that fire. From several reports, the fire was originally spotted at 1/4 acre. No aerial fire tankers were used. Apparently smoke jumpers could not get to it. We all know that if they had called for the tankers in Roseburg, Medford and or Redding, do you really think it would have become a 180,000 acre, $100 million fire? That fires incident commander has pretty much only given out generic federal info, AKA, you, the public do not need to know.

Forester353

Actually, from a first hand conversation with a smoke jumper, the USFS didn't call on them.
They chose to use a repelling crew instead, with no air support for bucket drops. Could have used a type 1 helicopter with a 1000 gallon bucket for several days and washed the fire off the hillside. The Forest Supervisor should be held accountable for damages to private property and critical air quality.

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