The biggest firefighters in the world are operating out of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
The DC-10 Supertankers are converted passenger jets capable of carrying 11,600 gallons of fire retardant. That’s roughly equivalent to the average backyard swimming pool. The DC10 can drop that enormous load in six seconds or spread it out over a mile.
The size of the DC-10 makes it a formidable tool for fighting wildfires.
On Wednesday, there were three of the mammoth planes flying to and from the Goodwin fire raging outside of Prescott.
Each drop costs approximately $27,000. In this case, paid for by the U.S. Forest Service.
They believe the benefit of using these behemoths is worth the cost.
On Tuesday, the tanker base at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport set a local record with 1,000,000 gallons of fire retardant dumped in a single day.
The retardant itself is a unique chemical compound that simultaneously slows the fire and fertilizes the ground to help vegetation recover after a fire. It has the consistency of snot to help it stick to the area where it’s dropped.
“The retardant helps take some of that heat out of the fire. It helps retard the spread of the fire; hopefully to give those guys on the ground a little cooler environment,” said Wayne Reynolds, a single engine tanker pilot with Western Pilot Service.
Reynolds doesn’t fly the DC10s, but he was the first pilot to drop retardant on the Goodwin fire.
“The fire at that time was about 20 acres,” said Reynolds.
Tanker pilots are a daring breed. Their goal is to dive toward the fire avoiding smoke, trees and mountain tops. Flying slowly at less than 100 feet above the tree-tops they release the retardant that falls with the effect of a heavy rain. After the drop they must immediately climb out.
“Once we make that approach there's a certain level of commitment to it and we have to make sure that if everything doesn’t work we still leave ourselves an out,” said Reynolds.