From DC-10 to C-130: big airplanes fighting infernos in America’s West


With record amounts of wildfires exploding throughout America’s West, overwhelmed officials in Colorado and California are turning to bigger planes to fight the fires, some of which come from the military.

“They were huge jets — flying into Glenwood Canyon,” said Vinny Elpwick, 24, who was painting a house nearby.

“They came in low, and we were cheering them on,” he told Xinhua of the converted DC-10 jets that assisted Friday the battle against the nearby Grizzly Creek Fire, which has devastated one of Colorado’s most scenic areas — the spectacular Glenwood Canyon.

As of Saturday, the Grizzly Creek Fire has scorched 29,992 acres (121.4 square km) with 20 percent containment, according to InciWeb, an interstate incident information system, predicting it could be knocked down on Sept. 18.

Firefighters across Colorado need all the help they can get, with 300,000 acres (1,214.1 square km) already scorched in record drought conditions and no more than 22 percent containment with any of the state’s four big wildfires which can be seen on imagery from the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite, including Grizzly Creek Fire.

“It’s unreal and eye-opening for someone who is new to this,” Dan Montelli, a former military pilot who now flies DC-10s for a company called 10 Tanker, told the Colorado Sun newspaper this week.

With three jet engines, the DC-10 has a “humongous power-to-freight ratio,” Rob Burrus, 10 Tanker’s head of operations, told the Sun.

“Never take a knife to a gun fight,” excavator Jeff Blevins told Xinhua, “especially if you have a big gun,” he said, referring to the use of the DC-10 as a firefighting tool.

The legendary DC-10, manufactured by U.S. military manufacturer McDonnell Douglas, has been flying passengers since 1971 and made its final flight with people in 2017 with the Bangladeshi Biman airline company, according to

The 10 Tanker Air Carrier said its DC-10 fleet started its fire mission since 2006.


“Ninety-two large fires have burned nearly 1.5 million acres (6,070.2 square km) in 13 states,” the Idaho-based National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) said Saturday.

“Large fire activity in California accounts for about 1.1 million acres of today’s total,” NIFC added, with new, large fires also reported in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas, and some 24,000 firefighters at work in the West.

NIFC confirmed Saturday that help was on the way for beleaguered California, with Nevada and Wyoming National Guard bases sending three C-130 air tankers and support crew to fight some of the biggest fires in state history.

On Thursday, the “1st AF/America’s AOC” tweeted that four C-130s made drops in Northern California, and that “100 retardant drops had been made since July.”

NIFC said two of the aircraft are from the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, Port Hueneme and two are from the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing based in Cheyenny, noting “these aircraft are instrumental in providing increased aerial firefighting capacity on fires across the West.”

The C-130 “Hercules” is roughly the size of a DC-10, with a 39.7-meter wingspan, 97.3 meters long, and 11.4 meters high. It was designed by Lockheed to haul up to 42,000 pounds of military equipment, and 2,500 have been built since 1954.

The military cargo transport can be used as an air tanker against wildfires after the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS), a self-contained unit used for aerial firefighting, was loaded onto it. The aircraft with MAFFS can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than 10 seconds across a quarter-mile line.

This allows the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to use military aircraft from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve to serve as an emergency backup resource to the civilian air tanker fleet.

This week, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom called National Guard units across the country with C-130s, asking for help to fight the blazes, according to media reports.

“At least 585 fires have burned more than 900,000 acres (3,642.2 square km), killed five people and forced evacuation orders for more than 119,000 people,” CNBC reported Saturday.

A stifling heat wave, no precipitation, and some 20,000 lightning strikes across the West have sparked the blazes, officials said.

Northern California is “drastically short of firefighters,” the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper reported Saturday.

On Friday morning, California Fire spokesman Scott McLean said 375 engines had been requested from outside California, but only 45 arrived.

Newsom, “stretched thin on emergency response crews to battle the fires, has called on the California National Guard, deployed almost 12,000 firefighters statewide and requested help from many states,” CNBC added.

Thus far, 10 states have sent fire crews, engines and aircraft to help battle the blazes, Newsom said.

The United States has a fleet of about 430 C-130s across active-duty, Reserve and National Guard units, however, one year ago, the U.S. Air Force temporarily grounded 123 C-130s over safety concerns. Enditem

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