After a hard fight and many setbacks, the DC-10 Supertanker finally received a seasonal contract from CalFire. And not just for a year, but for three! Apparently public pressure due to a media blitz and letter-writing campaign initiated by Wildfire Research Network (WRN), along with a high-profile brushfire in Griffith Park, convinced Governor Schwarzenegger to award the contract through emergency funds. This massive aircraft will now be available within an hour of being called to fight fires in a wide radius that covers all of Southern California. For fires to the north, it will take a bit longer to get there, but can be reached at jet speeds. With a payload of 12,000 gallons, this will provide a tremendous boost to firefighters on the ground. Fire managers who have commented on the DC-10's performance in fires during 2006 were very favorably impressed with its effectiveness. On the Esperanza Fire, it was credited with providing 60% of the containment of that blaze with only a handful of drops, something that would have taken smaller air-tankers dozens of drops to complete.
But the DC-10 brings more to the table than just a large payload. Experiments done in the 1970's point to the possibility of performing drops at 10,000 feet with polyacrylate gels to actually modify weather, cooling temperatures and raising the humidity over a fire for a short period of time, causing the fire to "lay down". The fire chiefs of both LA County and LA City questioned Tony Morris and Bob Cavage of WRN last fall to see if this could be done by the DC-10. If so, then smaller air-tankers could follow the DC-10 in and make drops with gel on hot spots during the fire's reduced activity, allowing them to effectively tear the heart out of a blaze and turning the ground effort into one of mopping up, something that takes considerably less resources. The cost savings of such a technique could be substantial, and would also increase resources available for other emergencies. Welcome to a new era in aerial firefighting!
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