The pilot and a spokesperson of a Boeing 747 airplane, converted to help blanket wildfires in water and fire retardant, on Thursday confirmed the news many in Eastern Madera County and California were waiting to hear.
The massive jet, nicknamed the 747 SuperTanker, roared over two ongoing fires this week in California to make its first drops in the United States. And one of them was on the western flank of the Railroad Fire in Fish Camp, as the quad-engine tanker made drops nearly double the size of the largest air attack planes previously available across the nation.
Plus, they said due to an interagency agreement between Cal Fire and the federal government, the plane could be used to help battle wildfires in places like Yosemite National Park.
“Not only are we ready, we’ve been looking forward to it,” said Marco Valdez, pilot of the plane owned by private company Global SuperTanker. “We’re thrilled to be here and we’re proud to help serve on these fires.”
The drops follow the signing of a contract between the company and Cal Fire earlier this week.
Valdez said the plane made two drops of retardant - a total of 18,248 gallons - on the Ponderosa Fire Wednesday. The blaze was reported by the Sacramento Bee at 3,507 acres with 10 homes destroyed Thursday.
David Richey, spokesperson for the company, confirmed Thursday afternoon the plane was making similar drops on the western flank of the Railroad Fire. Richey said two drops of retardant, 9,220 gallons each, were made on the first run. At 6:20 p.m., he said the plane was reloading at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento - the jet’s home base - for a second round.
The gallon amounts are about 1.7 times that of the largest air tankers available to state and national firefighters, Valdez said.
Richey added the plane was in use Thursday morning on the Ponderosa Fire, located north of Sacramento in Butte County, before it was diverted to the Railroad Fire. The Railroad Fire continued to grow and force more evacuations.
This story will be updated.