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DC-10 Airtanker may skip fires this season

July 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Over the past four years, the DC-10 Airtanker has fought dozens of California wildfires. But this fire season it might not be available. The reason: budget cuts.

When Cal Fire first signed the deal bringing the DC-10 into service, the thought was that the state would have an incredible firefighting tool at its disposal for years to come.

"We're delighted with Cal Fire taking the lead and giving us the contract we need to have this airplane available," said 10 Tanker Air Carrier CEO Rick Hatton in June 2007.

Over the next four fire seasons, the DC-10 flew more than 300 missions in California on nearly 50 wildfires.

That was then.

The tanker is now grounded because at $7 million a year to guarantee use of the plane, the state can no longer afford it.

Still, Hatton made the pitch that having this plane on standby can actually save money.

"A fire that is attacked within the first hour is much more likely to be contained than one that is attacked in 24 hours," said Hatton.

Cal Fire says the plane might still be here on a call-when-needed basis, but the trouble is, if there's no contract, there's no guarantee this plane will be here when Cal Fire needs it.

"None of these cuts are easy for us, but we obviously know that we have to do something to contribute to help get the financial health of the state back together," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson.

The state still operates 23 S2 air-tankers and 11 heli-tankers.

The Martin Mars might be available with federal money; same thing with the 747 Evergreen supertanker.

Still, come wildfire season, the assistance of the DC-10 might very well be a thing of the past.

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