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New Weapon Available for Battling Wildfires


Wildfires are again burning in the Western U.S. state of California. There is concern that the high temperatures and high winds will cause the fires to spread. Though they have a number of tools available to them, firefighters cannot always bring the fires under control. Soon, a new weapon may help. The new DC-10 supertanker should prove to be a valuable tool for firefighters.

The newest tool in fighting wildfires is a D.C.-10 supertanker airplane being made by a California company. It has five water tanks mounted beneath its body. The tanks hold as much as 45,000 liters of water -- four times the capacity of the largest tankers currently in use. The tanks are capable of releasing all 45,000 liters of water in less than a minute. The hydraulic controls allow pilots to use one tank of water at a time -- or all of them at once.

Officials believe one of the current fires in California started as a controlled burn -- a fire intentionally set to clear an area of vegetation. When weather conditions changed, the fire started to burn out of control. Situations like that are not unusual in California and other areas.

The makers of the new supertanker hope their plane will help make fighting such fires a little easier. The aircraft, which is still experimental, is generating interest from countries in Europe and also inside the U.S., according to supertanker pilot Jack Maxey.

"This is another tool in the toolbox. It is not going to take the place of the helicopters. It is not going to take the place of the small airplanes. But it is going to be another tool," he said.

The plane has been successfully tested at a southern California logistics air base and also at the Paris Air Show. Those tests prove it is an effective tool in fighting wildfires -- according to Mr. Maxey. "Everything so far has proven that the airplane will do it and we are ready to take it out and put some fires out."

Its backers hope it will soon get final approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency and that they can put it into operation sometime before the end of this year.

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