Air tanker pilot hits wrong button, firefighters wash cars


From, reported by Tim Johnston:

The Texas Forest Service sent out workers with fire trucks, but not to put out flames. This time it was to wash off fire retardant that the TFS admits was accidentally dropped on a North Abilene neighborhood.

According to the TFS, the plane was heading for a fire, but had to cancel the flight because of the cloud cover. The Forest Service explains that their tankers are not allowed to land with a cargo full of the retardant. So the course of action is to release it onto an approved drop site.

However, Sunday afternoon the TFS says the plane’s pilot accidentally released roughly 300 gallons of the pinkish fire retardant from roughly 1,000 feet in the air.

The accidental drop was mainly kept to the blocks just east of North Judge Ely, and most of Westheimer Street was covered.

Calls came in to that “pink stuff was raining down out of the sky.”

“As it came over this area, he [the pilot] punched the wrong button, and about 300 gallons of his load came out,” explained Lewis Kearney of the Texas Forest Service.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service immediately began to hose off the cars and other property that was covered in retardant.

“I heard something from in the house, and all of a sudden I saw them spraying my car, and I was kind of freaked out because I wasn’t sure what had happened,” said Sarah Ray, whose car was freshly cleaned by the TFS.

It reminds me of when air tankers flew out of Ontario airport in southern California a few decades ago. There was one lady who lived near the end of the runway who frequently complained about the noise from the huge radial engines on the air tankers. One day when a tanker was taking off it had a mechanical problem and had to drop the load of retardant in order to increase their chances of returning to the airport and landing safely–which it did. But guess where that retardant landed. Correct, and the lady was not happy. Soon after that, air tankers stopped using Ontario as an air tanker base.

Oh, and there was the time that the Alpine (California) Fire Department’s official Chief car got hit with retardant when he was at a fire and the Chief put in a claim to the U.S. Forest Service for several thousand dollars so he could repaint it. The claim was denied.

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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.