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‘Super scooper’ planes, on loan from Canada, bolster local firefighters’ aerial arsenal

One of two "super scooper" firefighting aircraft arrive arrive on lease from Quebec at the Van Nuys airport in Los Angeles on Saturday. The large water tankers, which can carry up to 1,600 gallons of water, arrived nearly a month earlier than usual.

One of two “super scooper” firefighting aircraft arrive arrive on lease from Quebec at the Van Nuys airport in Los Angeles on Saturday. The large water tankers, which can carry up to 1,600 gallons of water, arrived nearly a month earlier than usual.

(Richard Vogel / AP)

Although two “super scooper” firefighting airplanes on loan through a leasing agreement with Quebec’s Ministry of Transportation have yet to be called to their first local assignment, La Cañada’s mayor says he’s grateful for backup in an earlier-than-usual fire season.

The fixed-wing, amphibious Canadair Bombardier LC-415s landed at Van Nuys Airport on Saturday from Quebec, just four days after Los Angeles County Supervisor’s voted to renew a five-year, $41.25-million contract with Canada’s Ministry of Transportation to bolster the aerial arsenal maintained by the county Fire Department.

Battalion Chief Doug LaCount, air operations chief for L.A. County Fire, said the craft are intended to augment the department’s regular fleet, which comprises eight helicopters of varying size that use snorkels and an onboard pump system to refill tanks carrying up to 1,000 gallons of water.

“We bring them in this time of year because this is the time we get our largest fires, historically,” he said Tuesday. “We lease them from Quebec, and they’re government-owned, so it depends on what [Canada’s] fire season is like, too.”

According to the regular terms of the contract, the planes are to be leased for a 90-day period to begin Sept. 1, with an option to extend the length of the lease on either end in the event of “extreme climate conditions.” Last year L.A. County Fire Department leased four super scoopers from Oct. 2 through November. In 2013, the two planes on lease were kept into January.

This year, due to what officials believe is a hotter, riskier season, the planes were brought in nearly one month earlier than the regular term on a 120-day contract that will run through early December, LaCount reported.

La Cañada Flintridge Mayor Jon Curtis said Tuesday city officials were appreciative of the county’s commitments to keeping residents and their homes safe from the dangers of fires that seem to have hit San Gabriel Mountain communities earlier this year.

“I’m so pleased and excited the county re-upped the contract for the super scoopers,” Curtis said, recalling the city’s dependence on such efforts during the 2009 Station fire. “If we had not had the resources of the L.A. County Fire Department and other agencies jumping in, it could have been a real disaster for La Cañada Flintridge.”

The cost of keeping that high level of commitment is fairly steep. The contract stipulates the county will pay $539,880 for the first 30 days of each annual lease, and an additional $12,000 for every day thereafter. The operational cost for each hour of flying time is $1,079.

LaCount said super scoopers are able to carry more than 1,500 gallons of water apiece. They’re initially filled inside the hangar and ready to go, and can reload by scooping up water from a designated water source, most likely the ocean or a nearby lake, in a matter of seconds.

“They fly together in tandem,” LaCount said of the planes. “It packs a really good one-two punch, because they usually drop [sequentially]. So you’ll get about 3,000 gallons there between the two aircraft coming in.”

According to county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who posted news of the contract renewal in an Aug. 2 blog post, leasing the aircraft instead of buying them allows the county to pay on and as-needed basis and ensures the fire department has the most cutting-edge technology at its avail.

Curtis said Tuesday with foothill communities like Duarte, Azusa and Santa Clarita hit by blazes well before the typical August or September fire season, knowing the super scoopers are ready and waiting to go is a relief.

“It’s really important, from a city, state and county perspective, to have those large resources, so you can hit these fires hard,” the mayor said.


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