Aerial Battle Waged Against Calif. Wildfire

Aug. 20--One of the key ways the Junction fire was fought was from the air.

On Monday, aerial firefighting crews dropped about 75,000 gallons of retardant on the blaze, including Tanker 911, a converted McDonnell Douglas DC-10 that can drop about 12,000 gallons of water or chemicals in one pass.

Kenneth Perkins, the U.S. Forest Service tanker base manager at Atwater's Castle Airport, said the tanker made four flights on Monday, using about 42,000 gallons of chemicals.

Besides the massive DC-10 flying from Atwater, seven firefighting aircraft flew sorties Monday from the Forest Service's Fresno Air Attack Base at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Base manager John Harpain said his crews serviced one Lockheed P-2V Neptune twin-engine tanker, which can carry 2,700 gallons of chemicals and six smaller Grumman S-2T twin-engine turboprop tankers capable of carrying about 1,200 gallons on each flight.

Overseeing the chemical drops were crews aboard small, nimble twin-engine North American OV-10A Bronco airplanes, which fly overhead to direct the larger tankers.

As of Tuesday morning, a pared-down roster of aircraft were assigned to the Junction fire, including one of the OV-10A Bronco tactical planes, a Bell UH-1H Super Huey helicopter that can use a 324-gallon bucket to make precision drops of water or chemicals, two S-2T air tankers and one of the P-2V tankers.

By midday Tuesday, however, no tanker flights from Fresno had been requested by fire commanders in Oakhurst, said Harpain, the Fresno air-base manager. "We're sitting here ready and loaded when they make the request," he added.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.

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