State fires draw air tanker into Pocatello

Unique air tanker comes to Pocatello

POCATELLO, Idaho - As the state enters the heat of fire season, national fire services are gearing-up their resources in southeast Idaho.

According to air tanker pilot Kevin Hopf, there are only two DC-10 Air Tankers in the entire world. One of which, happens to be based at the Pocatello Air Tanker Base this week.

This Very Large Air Tanker, or VLAT is a national resource, which is called to action across the country when large wildfires break-out and become nearly uncontrollable. 

The East Idaho Interagency Fire Center's Lynn Ballard noted how severe the fire situation in the state is, in order to call in the VLAT.

"Idaho is number one in the nation for fires - the eastern Great Basin, and we have a lot of acres burning," Ballard said.

Nonetheless, he also said this is still a pretty calm fire season for Idaho.

This is the same air tanker that helped-out during the deadly Arizona wildfires that broke out in June, claiming the lives of 19 firefighters. But this week, the tanker flew all over the southeast region, helping with fires in Lava Hot Springs down to the State Fire located near the Idaho-Utah border.

Hopf said this aircraft is unique because not only is it a jet, but it also carries up to 11,600 gallons of flame retardant at one time. Flying at a speed of 600 miles per hour, the aircraft can also dip close to the ground.

He said this year alone, the aircraft already flew to nine different states, racking-up nearly 500,000 gallons of flame retardant dropped. Stacked against the previous fire year he said was much worse, more than 900,000 gallons of retardant was dropped.

Both Hopf and Ballard said there is always a need for more of these resources to help fight large fires. However, they are not sure as to whether or not that will happen anytime in the near future.

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