Is Aerial Firefighting Worth It?

Airplanes are used to fight some of the most dangerous fires, with states spending millions on maintaining and expanding their arsenal of aircraft parts capable for firefighting. These amazing aircraft can drop nearly 12,000 gallons of fire retardant in one takeoff. This fire retardant has been tested to be double the firefighting capability of water and almost 9 million gallons of it was used in 2015 alone. California has the largest fleet of firefighting planes and helicopters, with 22 air tankers, 12 helicopters and 14 tactical planes. This shows the investment that states are willing to spend on what they think of as an extremely valuable firefighting tool.

With the amazing capabilities of these aircraft, there’s drawbacks. Flying planes near fire zones is especially dangerous and 37 firefighters have died while operating the sky firefighting tools in the last 10 years. That’s a huge number and it shows the danger of the missions all together. Not is it only dangerous, it’s extremely expensive. The fire retardant they drop is nearly $2 a gallon. If you look at how much was used in 2015, 9 million gallons, you can see how expensive this can get. The fire retardant has also been linked to environmental problems because it contains nitrogen, which is detrimental to trees, fish, and all wildlife. This is more troublesome considering that a study done by Stahl’s Group said that there was no correlation to the use of aircraft fighting fires and the size of the fire or actual attack rates. The study says that planes don’t have an impact on fighting fires.

Although there are many negative aspects to fighting fires using aircraft, states are still heavily investing in aircraft to help wildfires. Colorado has been expanding their fleet, and California is always trying to improve their firefighting capabilities.


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