USA– n airplane capable of scooping a load of water directly from Lake Tahoe and quickly dumping it on the flames of a wildfire will be based at the lake this summer, substantially boosting the regions firefighting capabilities.
The newly built Bombardier CL-415 Super Scooper, the first of its kind to be based in the Reno-Tahoe area, was unveiled by U.S. Forest Service officials Tuesday at the South Lake Tahoe airport.
During a drought year posing extreme wildfire danger, this baby could make a big difference, experts said.
This is huge. Its really going to improve our capability immensely, said Kit Bailey, fire management officer for the Forest Services Lake Tahoe unit.
Owned by Spokane, Wash.-based Aero-Flight, the aircraft is the only water-scooping air tanker now under exclusive contract with the Forest Service, according to reports.
The aircraft essentially combines attributes of more common air tankers that drop chemical fire retardant and the big Type 1 helicopters used to fight fires, usually by dropping water.
Crewed by two pilots, the Super Scooper can descend to a lakes surface and scoop up a payload of some 1,600 gallons of water, a process that at Lake Tahoes altitude will take about 20 seconds, Bailey said. The plane can then fly to a fire, drop its water and repeat the process again and again with fuel lasting up to four hours, Bailey said. Many lakes in the area would meet the aircrafts needs as a water source.
The highly maneuverable plane could prove extremely valuable in battling a fire in its early stages, potentially keeping it from growing large.
Thats where its strength comes in being able to respond quickly and deliver an amazing amount of water in a very short amount of time, Bailey said. Youre going to do a lot of damage quickly to that fire.
The plane will be available nationally as needed and may at times be at fires far away. But as long as its at its base it could quickly respond to fires burning within the Lake Tahoe Basin or at other nearby national forests, including the Eldorado, Tahoe and Humboldt-Toiyabe.
Would this plan have kept Tahoes most disastrous wildfire, the Angora Fire of 2007, from being so bad? In all likelihood, probably not, Bailey said. That blaze which destroyed 254 homes outside South Lake Tahoe was pushed by winds so severe that air tankers were grounded most of the fires first day.
But the Super Scooper could make a huge difference at another fire, Bailey said.
Just the speed of the aircraft and its ability to scoop and deliver water is going to have a serious impact. Itll be a good thing for everybody, Bailey said. Were glad to be able to host it. Hopefully we wont need it but if we do it will be here.