SAN DIEGO -- As the Southern California fire season heats up, Cal Fire's biggest and perhaps most effective firefighting tool, the DC 10 Super Tanker, has been canceled due to the state's budget woes.
The super tanker drops about 12,000 gallons of fire retardant on a wildfire, which is nearly 10 times more than other firefighting aircraft.
“Everybody`s got to tighten the belt, and this is something that we have to do,” said Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler. “We don’t like to cut any firefighter resources.”
Mohler said supertankers assist the ground crews.
“What the public needs to remember is that does not affect our initial attack response to wild land fires,” he said. “It will not delay any equipment getting to your home or us fighting those fires.”
Supertankers have been criticized for not being as effective as possible. . Mohler said it is an efficient but very specific tool.
“The DC-10 can only drop from a certain altitude so it has to be very specific areas -- flat lands, no wind -- so it`s effective but only in certain circumstances,” said Mohler.
Rick Hatton is the CEO for 10 Tanker Air Carrier which owns the Victorville-based tanker and its backup. He said he was dismayed by the decision to cancel the contract.
“We think it'[s penny wise and pound foolish to cut it,” said Hatton. “It's about a $21 million, three-year deal and it provides the airplane on very quick standby.”
He said the super tanker has been instrumental in about 48 fires over the last four years.
“Everyone thinks their particular project shouldn`t be cut, but this one saves more money than it costs,” he said.
The super tanker will now be on a "call when needed" contract, meaning the plane could be ready to respond in 24 hours instead of the 30 minutes the contract ensured. Hatton said he is not sure his company can sustain that for a long period.
“We cannot subsidize the state just to see if it needs us,” he said. “You can't do business that way.”
He hopes the contract will be reinstated which is what happened after a similar cancelation in 2009.