7:28pm

Tue June 5, 2012
Wildfires

Air Tanker Crashes Stretch US Forest Service Fleet

As the Stuart Hole fire in Northern Colorado continues to burn, and a nearly 200,000 acre fire rages in New Mexico, The US Forest Service and its fleet of air tankers have been seeing a lot of action.

However, two P2V-Neptune tankers have crashed.

The Sunday crashes were separate incidents in Utah and Nevada, raising concern that the dwindling fleet could hamper efforts to fight future wildfires.

The Forest Service’s air tanker fleet is made up of aging cold war era submarine attack planes retrofitted for firefighting duty, and many of them are nearing the end of their usable life. With two of the tankers now out of service, the remaining fleet may be spread too thin.

Janelle Smith with the US Forest service says despite the recent crashes, there are still many tools for fighting fires.

“We always have options. There are single engine air tankers, there are helicopters; there are other assets even from Canada and our international partners. So, there are always options on the table. Even if you take one element out of the picture, we can rely on other resources.”

The US Forest Service acknowledges the fleet is aging, and continues to negotiate contracts for new air tankers, which will be faster and more fuel efficient. However, officials say it will take awhile to replenish the fleet.

Raw video of the P2V-Neptune crash landing in Nevada. (Warning: ambient noise is very loud.)