USA/Canada — As a supersize brush fire chewed through Yosemite National Park on Monday, Los Angeles County officials heralded the early touchdown of Super Scooper air tankers to safeguard tinder-dry brush across the Southland.
The tankers arrived from Canada two weeks ahead of schedule to respond to critically dry fire conditions on the ground. They were joined by an Erickson Air-Crane Helitanker also contracted to add oomph to L.A. Fire Department response efforts.
Were ready, said Chief Pilot Carl Villeneuve of Quebec, commander of one of two yellow-and-red air tankers stationed at Van Nuys Airport. Always ready for fire response. Coming in at 120 knots, around 100 feet high, we put the fire out.
Los Angeles County Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky joined LAFD officials to herald the annual return of the Canadian Super Scoopers.
One of two Bombardier CL-415s, the Helitanker and a county Firehawk helicopter dropped thousands of gallons of water on an airport runway to demonstrate firefighting effectiveness for local media.
The height of the fire season is now, said Yaroslavsky in a news conference at the Fire Departments Tanker Base, just east of VNY runway One-Six-Right. These aircraft will be here as long as theyre needed. Weather permitting, these planes can do more to knock out fire than any other aircraft.
It was 20 years ago that Los Angeles County first contracted the air tankers and crews from the Canadian province for use during its off-season. Since then, the amphibious aircraft capable of sucking up to 1,600 gallons of water from the Pacific Ocean have become almost synonymous with Southern Californias fall fire season, with some 140 Canadian pilots and crews having served to protect Los Angeles over the years.
Because three years of lower-than-normal rainfall has spawned parched conditions throughout Southern California, fire officials chose to call on the Quebecois two weeks early.
The contract for two Super Scoopers and the Helitanker ran $6 million. The aircraft will be based at Van Nuys Airport for roughly 100 days.
When combined with county and city firefighting helicopters based in Pacoima, the air fleet can drop more than 5,000 gallons of water in a first assault.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department has the most robust fire response in the nation to keep the small fires small, said Chief Daryl L. Osby.
Because most fires are lit by man, he asked residents to be extremely vigilant in preventing fire and reporting the first sign of suspicious activity. He also touted his departments Ready! Set! Go! wildfire action plan, available at www.lacounty.gov.
During the news conference, a dozen firefighters were airlifted to a potential fire at Malibu Creek State Park in what turned out to be a false alarm.