Fire season: Supertanker staged in southern Arizona - Tucson News Now

Fire season: Supertanker staged in southern Arizona

(Source: globalsupertanker.com) (Source: globalsupertanker.com)
MARANA, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Was the Sawmill Fire a preview of what's to come for southern Arizona this summer?

Now that the flames are out and the hundreds of personnel have packed up and returned home, an incredibly massive asset in wildland fire fighting has landed in Marana.

The Global Supertanker boasts a carrying capacity of nearly twice that of the next largest aerial tanker, according to its website.

Its crew can reload the 19,200 gallons of water, foam, gel or retardant in less than 30 minutes.

Fresh off a mission in Chile, the Global Supertanker has returned to the United States.

"When your country is on fire or your state or your county is on fire and you're really looking for that help, that relief...you're real happy to see the SuperTanker show up," said Pilot Marcos Valdez.

Valdez was flying the Global SuperTanker before it was fighting fires, back when it was a cargo plane. Before that, he said it was a passenger plane.

There are still signs of the SuperTanker's history around the plane. The crew can sit, and even sleep, up top where seats look like a typical commercial flight with triple the legroom.

Below that, 20 tanks take up most of the cargo area. Valdez said half the tanks hold fluid while the rest are full of pressurize air to help with the fire fighting.

There's something the crew delivers that isn't loaded on board, but is obvious in the crew's delivery by watching Youtube videos of their work in Chile.

"We bring hope to the community," said Valdez. :When they see the airplane come, in Spanish we call it "Esperanza". That hope is important. It's powerful."

That power hasn't been called on in the United States yet. President Jim Wheeler said he watched the Sawmill Fire and wished there was more they could do.

"Fires today are getting far more vicious," he said. "We've seen fires grow rapidly, even the Sawmill Fire is a good example of how fast a fire can grow."

The Global SuperTanker is roughly 1.75 times larger than the D-C 10, which did respond to the Sawmill Fire with several other types of aircraft.

Wheeler said he acknowledges that every aircraft is a tool and every tool has its job, but he would like to bring out the SuperTanker for the big jobs.

"You need the most powerful tool in the toolbox, in many cases," he said. "That's what we are. We aren't the only tool...we're the biggest and most powerful tool."

Wheeler said his team is still working with the U.S. Forest Service to finish testing requirements to fight wildfires domestically.

Global SuperTanker Services can apply with every other airtanker service in the states when a new solicitation for Call When Needed agreements is available in 2017, according to information provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

There are currently 20 airtankers available to the U.S. Forest Service because of previous agreements.

Federal agencies have not established airtanker bases capable of supporting something the size of the Global SuperTanker, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

A project like that would require significant time, money and resources, according to info provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

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