Report: More Water Scoopers, Less Chemical Retardants Should Be Used on Wildfires

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A report from the RAND Corporation recommends that the U.S. Forest Service should ground more of its firefighting planes that drop retardant chemicals and rely more heavily on planes that scoop up water.

The Associated Press reports that RAND's cost-comparison data that pointed to greater efficiency and savings using the water scoopers instead of the planes that must be regularly take off and land in order to be reloaded with fire retardant chemicals.

The AP reports that none of the planes listed in the Forest Service's Large Airtanker Modernization Strategy is a water scooper.

Water scoopers are used aggressively in Canada and in some firefighting operations in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, where California wildfires spark each year.

"We think for a sizeable percentage of fires, in particular those that are relatively proximate to water sources, that scoopers can replace air tankers," said Edward Keating, lead author of the RAND report.

But Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told the AP he wasn't entirely convinced.

"Water, if it's dropped at a higher altitude, you can lose a lot of it just through evaporation," said Tidwell. "And then the wind will move water around a lot more than it will retardant. Retardant is much heavier, it's denser. So we can fly the planes a little bit higher so it's safer for the pilot."

The RAND report, commissioned by the Forest Service, cost the agency $800,000, according to the AP.

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