A month before the Pains Bay fire started in North Carolina, the state’s Division of Forest Resources sold their only large air tanker, a CL-215, on eBay. The aircraft was built by Canadair in 1969 and was purchased by North Carolina in 1998 for $4 million. It had been mothballed since May, 2008 because it had become too expensive to operate, David Lane, head of the forest protection for the division, said in 2007. Lane said it cost up to $1.2 million a year, which was 35 percent of the division’s aircraft budget. The state did not have the funding for an estimated $1.5 million needed for repairs and FAA-required maintenance.
North Carolina listed the aircraft on eBay and accepted the winning bid of $445,099 from Buffalo Airways of Yellowknife, Northwest Territory, Canada on March 30, 2011. Buffalo Airways purchased it sight unseen and planned to fly a team to Hickory, NC to perform necessary maintenance and repairs, then fly it 5,000 miles to its new home.
Since then, some recent news reports about the 20,954-acre Pains Bay fire on the North Carolina coast have included criticism of the sale of the air tanker. Tom Crews is the Fire Management Officer of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge where the fire is burning, and was the Type 3 Incident Commander before Mike Quesinberry’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command on May 8. Crews has been quoted as saying:
If we’d had the CL 215, we’d have been able to stop this fire by now, there’s no doubt in my mind.
It’s a real workhorse. It can drop more than three times as much water as any other plane.
A CL-215, according to the CalFire Firefighting Aircraft Recognition Guide, can hold 1,300 to 1,621 gallons, depending on the model. Other air tankers can drop from 300 to 20,000 gallons.
The state of North Carolina has four single engine air tankers (SEATs). Three of them are Melex M18A Dromader’s, and one is a Rockwell S2R. These SEATs can drop 400 to 500 gallons of water or retardant. The state has a fire Aviation Resources web page, but it was last updated in 2008.
The CL-215 air tanker is not the only wildfire aircraft that the state wants to sell. Here is an excerpt from a May 17, 2010 report from Wildfire Today about a panel’s recommendation that they dispose of another 19 aircraft used for fire management:
A watchdog group of the North Carolina General Assembly, the Program Evaluation Division, has recommended that the Division of Forest Resources eliminate 20 of the 38 aircraft that they use for the management of wildland and prescribed fires. The report also recommends that of the other 34 aircraft owned by the state, that 5 of them be eliminated.
Here are the recommendations about the fire-related aircraft from the 89-page report, which also covers the management of other state-owned aircraft.
|Fire Control (3 single-engine fixed wing, and 3 Bell UH1H helicopters)||6||2||4|
|Fire Patrol (single-engine fixed wing)||18||11||7|
|Suppression (air tankers, 1 CL215 & 4 SEATs)||5||1||4|