The LA Fires Underscore the Need for Preventive Aerial Firefighting

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As we see priceless works of art at the Getty Center in LA endangered by a fire just across the freeway and thousands of people displaced by wildfires, the need for increased aerial firefighting support is quite clear.

The technology is available. The CL-415 built by Viking in Vancouver BC was initially a Bombardier design purpose-built for firefighting. Viking Air in Sydney BC is considering restarting the production of the CL-415. This “super-scooper” can land on a lake or river and scoop up a full load to be back fighting fires much more quickly than other tankers, which need to land and be refilled from water systems.

Just as we had flights of bombers in World War II, imaging 12 or 24 of these water bombers, flying in formation, dousing wildfires just after they begin and before they become massive conflagrations. Is it possible? Yes. Does it make sense? Yes. Will it happen? Not without government getting out of the way.

The government can’t fund aircraft purchases, and can’t enter into leases longer than a year under current fiscal regulations.  The CONOPS,  to rewater at an airport is antiquated.  You need persistent delivery with minimum time between refilling airplanes and only the CL-415 and BE-60 can do that.

This is why the US Forest Service fleet is a mishmash of old aircraft that have been converted to firefighting operations.  Unfortunately, those aircraft aren’t as reliable nor as effective as new aircraft that are purposely designed for that purpose. (The 747 Supertanker is an exception)

Major players in the insurance industry claim to be expert at risk management.  If they truly were, however, they would create a joint venture to quickly handle wildfires and avoid multi-billion losses.  Every year, we see massive fires in the Western US, and similarly, as the seasons change, massive wildfires in Australia.  The cost of a fleet of CL415s, strategically placed to hit wildfires as soon as they emerge, would be much less than the cost of paying insurance claims when homes are lost and the lives of people negatively impacted.

The Bottom Line:
There is a solution.  Have the insurance industry privately fund a fleet of aircraft that can be dispatched to knock down major fires before they become disasters.  Looking at the cash flows, it would be cheaper than paying massive claims.  As the old adage states, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure“.  Early action is essential in knocking down fires, and clearly, the current practices are not working.  Whatever happened to common sense?

© 2017, Ernest S. Arvai. All rights reserved.

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7 comments on “The LA Fires Underscore the Need for Preventive Aerial Firefighting
  1. David Hughes says:

    Agreed – it is utterly baffling that the richest country in the world is the one with the most outdated, even antiquated aerial fire-fighting fleet. All of the European countries in the same fire risk zone as Southern and Central California have fleets of CL-215/415 as do several in Asia.

  2. It seems to me you’re suggesting that larger/specialised aircraft are the panacea to fighting forest fires. I’ve talked with a lot of firefighters in Australia and waterbomber pilots, and they all tell me that aerial attack doesn’t put fires out – what it helps to do is either reduce the temperature of a fire front or lay down retardant so that ground crews can move in and do the job. In that sense, having a lot of smaller aircraft/helicopters allows for a more sustained attack on the firefront rather than one larger machine. The CL415 may be appropriate, and if so, why has the USFS not already called in those in Canada and Europe already? My guess is that they know a little more about fighting fires than the average aviation guy.

  3. David Curtis says:

    There are currently 4 CL-415 aircraft specifically Quebec T-247 and one other Quebec government scooper are under contract to Los Angeles County, while T-260 and two other Aero-Flite CL-415’s are working on a contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

  4. Jeff says:

    In the vast majority of cases, land based tankers do not drop water, they drop retardant. So comparing the turnaround times of a scooping tanker to a retardant tanker is a little misleading.

  5. David Hughes says:

    Jeff – CL-415’s drop retardant as well – after the water is scooped up it has retardant added to it from tanks located in the hull – hence an even greater rate of drop rotation compared with land based tankers. Though I admit I do not know how much retardant is carried and for how many drops.

  6. Eric Tremblay says:

    In France, further to their CL415s, they also used modified Q400s that can stay in the air many hours, fully loaded with retardant.
    They keep those Q400s flying over fire prone areas (during hight fire season) and can dispatch them rapidly to early fires. If required, they send in the CL415 to finish the job.

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