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U.S. Forest Service Remains Confident About Air Tanker Fleet Capability

P2V Neptune Air Tanker
Alan Radecki
Wikimedia Commons

Despite two recent air tanker crashes in Utah and Nevada, and multiple large fires across the country including the now 8,000+ acre High Park Fire northwest of Ft. Collins, the US Forest Service says it remains fully capable of fighting multiple fires from the air.

There are currently 9 heavy air tankers on exclusive use contract with the Forest Service. The full fleet is normally 11 tankers. 2 special CV 580’s were brought in last week and according to Wildfiretoday.com footage of a CV dropping retardant over the High Park Fire is a rare occurrence in the lower 48 states.

Jennifer Jones, spokeswoman for Fire and Aviation Management of the National Interagency Fire Center says in addition to the large tanker fleet, there are 2 air tankers owned by the state of California that are available as well as hundreds of helicopters and single engine air tankers which can be strategically placed around the country.

In an e-mail this morning, Jones explained,

“The National Interagency Fire Center doesn’t dispatch air tankers directly to fires. We allocate them to geographic areas, and [regional centers] dispatch them to individual fires.”

According the KUNC Live Blog of the High Park Fire there are currently:

  • 250 ground and engine crews are fighting the fire.
  • There are 15 engines and 3 water tenders on scene.
  • 2 SEATS (Single Engine Air Tankers)
  • 2 type 3 helos
  • 2 type 1 helos
  • Air Attack control plane
  • Lead plane
  • 2 heavy air tankers

In cases where the entire commercial air tanker fleet is fully committed, or not readily available, the Forest Service can also request assistance from the U.S. Air Force and their C130 MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System) unit.

Jones is not aware of any plans to order MAFFS or additional CV 580’s at the current time.


In addition to the High Park Fire, there remains a large fire in New Mexico, as well as a similarly large fire burning in Utah.

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