Martin Mars drops 64,000 gallons on two fires

The Martin Mars 7,200-gallon air tanker, air tanker 223, has been somewhat busy over the last few days, but not as busy as the company would like, apparently. Someone on Twitter who calls themselves “HawaiiMars” and knows a lot about the company complains each day that they do not have an assignment. For example:

  • Sept. 1 at 12:22 a.m. (referring to August 31): “The Mars sat on the Lake all day and didn’t fly one mission, suprising with all the fires burning”
  • Sept. 1 at 12:26 p.m.: “Mars still sitting on Lake Elsinore not flying”
  • Sept. 1 at 1:16 p.m.: “Mars still not flying”
  • Sept. 1 at 3:22 p.m.: “Fires Still Burning, Mars still Sitting On The Lake”

But in spite of the whining, since August 15 they have worked on the La Brea, Cottonwood, Oak Glen, and Station fires. In 4.5 hours on the initial attack of the Oak Glen fire on August 30 they made 9 drops for a total of 50,000 gallons. That is a shitload of water from one air tanker in 4.5 hours. Most likely they mixed Class A foam concentrate or Thermo-Gel with the water.

Yesterday on the Station fire they made three drops of Thermo-Gel for a total of 14,000 gallons.

Apparently they have only been able to carry about 4,600 to 5,500 gallons the last few days, due to the altitude of the fires and the density-altitude. Mt. Wilson is at 5,700 feet.

Martin Mars "sitting" at Lake Elsinore, 2008. Photo:

The aircraft is versatile, in that it can drop plain water scooped from a lake, water with Class A foam, or water mixed with gel concentrate like it dropped on Mt. Wilson on Tuesday. If a lake is close that they can use for scooping, the aircraft can put a lot of liquid on a fire in a hurry. Today “HawaiiMars” claimed:

“The Hawaii is one of the least expensive tankers, our Daily Cost Per Gallon averages less then $2.00 per gallon delievered”

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

6 thoughts on “Martin Mars drops 64,000 gallons on two fires”

  1. Bill,Thanks for the article. I could be wrong, but I thought the Martin Mars holds 7,200 gallons of water per these specifications. If I am wrong, then I need to correct a couple of my own blog entries. I appreciate all the good work you do writing of the wildfires in So. CA.Tyler

  2. Tyler-You are right that the Martin Mars’ maximum capacity is 7,200 gallons, but air tankers will sometimes not carry the maximum, depending on the density-altitude. The same thing goes for helicopters. They have to vary their water load depending on the density-altitude. On a hot day at high elevation an aircraft can’t carry as much as on a cooler day at lower elevation. And notice that in the specifications you linked to, it refers to "Full tank load: 7,200 gallons", as opposed to a partial tank load. A post from talks about "downloading" on a hot day. Hopefully an aviation person can explain it better that I can. Bill

  3. Bill:Thanks so much for all the work you’ve done on the Station Fire in Southern California. It has not been as easy to get information on the fire in the past few days. It’s been especially difficult regarding the spread of the fire to the wilderness areas, including areas my Akita and I have hiked for years and had hoped to hike in the future. Getting information and answers from your website has been a great comfort!Emily

  4. Emily-You are welcome. I hope the future holds many happy wilderness hikes for you and your Akita. Bill

  5. Another part of the limited payload off of Lake Elsinore is that the lake is rather small compared to what the Mars boats usually use, and in order to allow for contingencies such as loss of an engine during takeoff they limit their payload. I suspect that the density altitude at Mt Wilson is a smaller factor.

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