How air tankers load up to fight blazes like the Goodwin Fire

Trisha Hendricks gives us a closer look at the tanker base operations at the Mesa Gateway Airport tanker base.

When a fire like the Goodwin Fire blows up, ground crews need all the resources they can get and oftentimes, that means air crews.

12 News headed out to the Gateway air tanker base in Mesa to get a closer look at the operations.

“We lovingly call this tanker, we call him Big Juicy,” said Chris Price, assistant tanker base manager. “He goes out there and does a lot of good work for us.”

GOODWIN FIRE: What we know

Out at Gateway’s air tanker base, 3 DC-10s play a crucial role in the fire fight.

“They’re getting loaded up and ready to go back to the Goodwin Fire,” he said.

Price says by late afternoon Thursday, crews had already dumped 100,000 gallons of retardant on the fire. The base has gone through so much retardant on fires around the region this year, the base just broke a record at 1 million gallons. Typically, they tally between 500,000 and 800,000 for the entire year.

“This early in the game, is pretty impressive,” said Price. “We’ll see if we can hit 2 million.”           

From the time the air tanker hits the tarmac, it takes about 30 minutes for them to reload the retardant.

As soon as the tankers taxi in, crews put the tankers in chalk blocks and run the hoses out.

RELATED: Goodwin Fire 43 percent contained

“It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of moving parts,” he said.  

Each tanker has three separate tanks. Once loaded with 11,000 gallons of retardant, it takes the pilots about 25 minutes to fly to the fire. From about 300-500 feet above the ground, they drop it over the flames.

“It’s got a bonding agent … that helps stick to the foliage,” said Price. 

The retardant is made of water, iron oxide, a gumming agent, salt and coloring.

“It retards the fire long enough to get those guys on the ground into the fire, into those areas,” he said. “Public and firefighter safety is number one for us … secondary part is trying to save property.”

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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