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Canadians give SCV the 'Scoop' on fires

Posted: September 6, 2008 9:08 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.

These five undated file photos show a Canadian SuperScooper in action, dropping a load of water on a Santa Clarita Valley brush fire.

 
There isn't much the CL-415 air attack plane can't do. It doesn't wear a cape and it doesn't change clothes in a phone booth before fighting fires.

But the plane, officials say, is still super.

"The CL-415 SuperScooper is a vital weapon in Los Angeles County Fire Department's arsenal to suppress wildland fires during the peak of fire season," said air operations chief Anthony Marrone.

The SuperScooper does exactly what the name implies. It scoops up water and drops it on fires. But it also has a rare combination of air stability and speed that make it very effective, Marrone said.

The plane is stationed at Van Nuys Airport, which is located between lakes large enough for the SuperScooper to swoop in, snatch water and get back in the air in one swift pass, said Capt. Jeff Britton, tanker base co-manager.

Twin 2,380-horsepower prop engines allow the SuperScooper to refill its 1,600-gallon water tank in 12-second, one-half mile passes over lakes such as Castaic, Pyramid and Piru, and quickly get back up in the air, Britton said.

It can also refill the tanks on the largest water supply in the world.

"If the fire is in Malibu we refill over the Pacific Ocean," he said.

The SuperScooper's ability to literally refill on the fly allows it to make up to 160 drops on a fire zone in one day, Marrone said.

Water drops from the SuperScooper aren't clumsy operations that spray water haphazardly, Britton said.

The SuperScoopers work in tandem.

"If the first plane misses the target, the second plane can correct the miss on its drop," Britton said.

The SuperScooper isn't as accurate as the Sikorski helitanker but helitankers aren't as fast to the scene and can't operate in certain weather conditions, Marrone said.

"Helitankers do have the advantage of more lakes where they can fill up their tanks and are effective working in tight areas," said Capt. Scott Graham, tanker base co-manager.

High winds often ground aircraft during fire operations. During the 2007 fires, the SuperScooper was the only aircraft that could stay airborne the entire time. The width of the wings make the plane very stable, Graham said.

The SuperScooper is leased by County Fire from Canadian Province of Quebec. Service Aerion Gouvermental in Quebec City sends two SuperScoopers and five pilots to Los Angeles County from August to November to help fight fires, Marrone said. County fire budgets $3 million for the service, but the final tally depends on how many flight hours are logged.

Air attack is often the first to arrive at he scene of a large fire, Marrone said.

So it is important that the aircraft is able to keep the flames contained until ground units arrive, he said.

This was true on the Buckweed Fire that swept through the valley in 2007.

The Buckweed Fire started in the Acton area and much of the ground support was in Malibu fighting the Canyon fire, Marrone said. The SuperScooper was the first to the scene and helped control the blaze until the ground crews arrived, he said.

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