Huge tanker plane arrives in Whitehorse to help train firefighters
Fire retardant 'coats the forest fuels much like water, but it lasts longer,' says air attack officer
It's a big plane — and hopes are, it will help put out Yukon wildfires if it comes to it.
The Lockheed L-188 Electra arrived to the Whitehorse Airtanker Base last week from Alberta, to help train and prepare Yukon firefighters for the wildfire season.
It's as big as a commercial aircraft and there's only a few of them left in Canada.
"This year it looks like it's shaping up to be a busier than normal fire season," said Walter Nehring, air attack officer with Yukon Wildland Fire.
Nehring said in a busy wildfire year, firefighters may have up to 70 missions.
Its belly is filled with fire retardant and it can hold 11,000 litres. The red, almost syrup-like liquid is dropped on fires from the sky. It's made of fertilizer and firefighters would use it as a last resort — but it's more effective than water.
"It coats the forest fuels much like water, but it lasts longer. It doesn't evaporate."
Nehring said it takes 11 minutes to load the retardant into the plane.
"Usually, they can be rolling in about three minute after that."
It goes back and forth from fires, and crews on the ground will rush to fill it up when it lands, even when there's no time to shut off the engines.
"The airplane will pull in and the props keep turning," said Nehring.
The plane is owned by a private company called Air Spray and is rented to Yukon for the summer.
The company says it's ready to travel to wherever there's danger — whether that's the U.S., South America or even Australia.
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Written based on an interview by Philippe Morin