LOCKHEED C-130A, WALKER, CALIF., JUNE 17, 2002–Engaged in a firefighting mission near Walker, the four-engine turboprop broke apart during a low-altitude run to deliver its fire-retardant load. All three crewmembers were killed and the aircraft was destroyed.
Some forest fires start with a blast of jagged lightning, incinerating the dry timber and flinging the flaming fragments into the tinder-dry underbrush from which flames soon reach skyward.
“We need the Mars! Get the Mars!” shouts a frantic firefighter over the VHF fire frequency. A wildfire is racing up a hillside on the eastern fringe of Osoyoos, B.C., Canada, and seems certain to engulf a house in its path. Helicopters are bucketing water onto the flames in an effort to slow the fire’s advance, but still the flames leap up the side of the valley unimpeded.
Fighting fires from the air used to be an ad hoc business, as unpredictable as the odds of getting a return on your equipment investment. Even during a hot summer, aircraft operators in southern Europe might have their Bambi buckets gathering dust in the corner of a hangar on the off-chance a camping stove should topple over somewhere.
A controversy is flaring at the French fireguard about the use of converted Bombardier Dash 8Q-400 turboprops as heavy waterbombers. Pilots deem the aircraft unsuited to their needs and insist that using it has negative implications for safety. The Ministry of the Interior, which ordered two of the aircraft in 2004, has just reached an agreement with the pilots.