Forest fires are getting bigger, thanks to climate change, and when it comes to fighting forest fires, bigger fires require bigger planes. This training video was released during the height of the destructive 2019 fire season by folks who know a thing or two about big fires and fighting them: the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
A gif from this video popped up on Reddit this week, and I thought it would be interesting to dive into it a little. It was taken from a training video CAL Fire put together to illustrate the force of a payload delivery from new Large Airtankers (LATs) and Very Large Airtankers (VLATs). They scarified a poor Ford Expedition to illustrate just how intense the forces are during a fire retardant drop (the car-crushing madness starts at 1:20)
The plane dropped 9,000 pounds of flame retardant on the Expedition, causing it to rock and crushing in its roof. It never had a chance. That is the payload of a LAT, a Grumman S2-T Tanker. And this is the small plane. A VLAT can drop up to 170,000 pounds over the length of a mile.
The entirety of the training in this video is one loud-and-clear message: Don’t be near this thing when it drops. Which seems like good advice. Firefighters emphasize that these planes can drop retardant in a stream 90 to 130 feet wide and that fire fighters should stay at least 50 feet beyond the drop site. They definitely should not be in front of or behind the payload.
The last few years have required some big planes indeed. Over 250,000 acres were scorched in California in 2019 and three people lost their lives. The 2017 and 2018 season was even worse, with more than 100 people losing their lives. Smaller fires are already forming in California, as summer heats up and vegetation dries out, the VLATs will soon fly again.