The Red Stuff and More: A Visit to Cal Fire’s Air Attack Base in Rohnerville
Arriving in the afternoon, they were lucky enough to be able to catch the air tactical plane on the ramp.
They chatted with ATGS FC Logan Kalfsbeek in the Tower. Kalfsbeek explained the terminology of Cal Fire Air Attack, the mixing of the secret “red stuff” (apparently it has 23 ingredients some of which are secret) and the highly technical way they break up the red powder in the 2000 lb. bags the retardant comes in—they use good old American baseball bats.
Kalfsbeek also explained how three tanks are used to prepare the retardant. He said that the Air Base can “hot load” three tankers at once in three “pits” if needed. They have up to 50,000 gallons of fire retardant at any given time.
Our reporters wandered down to the mixing station and chatted with Cal Fire crew member Jeremy Dean about the mixing of the retardant. He explained the retardant coats the fuel of the fire and with the salt mixed in has a lasting effect of suppressing the fire.
The retardant is mostly used to prevent the fire from advancing. He explained that each fire is different and the example he used was the Tulley Fire–“It’s in steep terrain and heavy forest,” he said. The heat of the fire moves ahead of the fire and preheats the fuel in front of the fire. This makes it hard to battle the fire. (See the video explanation below.)
After washing his hands of the retardant, he continued explaining about how the retardant was used. The water tanker will lay retardant around the “head” of the fire to keep the fire from advancing. This gives the hand crews on the ground time to advance and “wrap the fire.” Ultimately the retardant helps slow down the fire. One interesting piece of information about the retardant is that after 28 days, the color goes away. The retardant acts as a fertilizer.
We continued on to the pumps and line area with Dean and asked questions about the equipment. Dean explained the “Alpha,” “Bravo” and “Charlie” tanks and that they were each 24,000 gallon tanks. He told us that on Tuesday, Aug 23 while fighting the “Tulley Fire” they pumped 22,000 gallons that day!
Shortly after talking about the tanks, we were informed that Cal Fire’s S2T Air Tanker, “Tanker 96,” was coming in from the Tulley Fire for a “hot load” in “Pit 3.” We were given ear plugs and safety glasses (the planes throw up rocks and such sometimes) to put on and then we were placed beside the aircraft ramp to watch the landing of Tanker 96.
After Air Tanker 96 had landed and taxied to “Pit 3,” the Cal Fire ground crews were busy prepping Air Attack 120 to depart the air base. They started “hot loading” Air Tanker 96. During hot loading, the “Phos-Check MVP-FX” retardant mix is pumped into the tail of the aircraft while the aircraft’s engines are still running.
After the flurry of action on the air base, the ground crews had time to chat and pose for pics
For aviation buffs, we’ve collected the stats for Cal Fire’s OV-10A Air Tactical Aircraft and the S2T Air Tanker. Both aircraft (OV-10A Bronco Tail #: 120 and S2T Tail #T96.) Both are stationed at Cal Fire Rohnerville Air Attack Base in Rohnerville.
OV-10A Bronco AIR TACTICAL AIRCRAFT:
1993, CAL FIRE bought 15 they provide a larger field of vision for the crew;and very maneuverable than older plane they used.
They are used as command and control of air-craft on a fire scene; they help incident commander on the ground know where the fire is moving and direct the air tankers and helicopter pilots to drop their loads of fire retardant and water.SPECIFICATIONS:Crew: Pilot and Air Tactical Group SupervisorGross Weight: 10,500 poundsMax. Operating Speed: 258 mphRange: 1,000 milesEndurance: 5.5 hours (maximum)Wing Span: 40 feetEngines: Two (2) Garrett T-76 turbines (715 horsepower each)
Grumman S2T (Type III Airtanker)
MANUFACTURER:Grumman AerospaceORIGINAL OWNER: U.S. Navy/Marines, 1958-1975; The S-2E/G was a carrier-based anti-submarine warfare airplane.In 1996, CAL FIRE acquired 26 S-2E/G plane and converted them to fire fighting configuration; with new turboprop engines and other upgrades.The mission of the S2T is to deliver fast attack of fire retardant on wild land fires. They can fly at 270 mph carrying up to 1200 gallons of retardant ( average load about 1000 gallons of retardant)SPECIFICATIONSCrew: PilotGross Weight: 29,150 poundsMax. Operating Speed: 270 mphRange: Loaded: 500 miles/Empty: 800 milesWing Span: 73 feetEndurance: 4.5 hoursEngines: Two (2) Garrett TPE331-14GR turbine engines. (1,650 horsepower each)