WEST GLACIER – A pair of Canadian CL-215 water-scooping planes have been a key tool for protecting Glacier National Park from wildfires.
The Super Scoopers are on loan from Canada and fire managers said they have been extremely resourceful in working the Howe Ridge Fire.
"We have two of those assigned to us that we have been using and they have been a huge asset," said Type 1 Incident Management Team Operations Chief Todd Abel. "The lake is right there and the turn-around time for getting water out of the lake and getting to where we need them has been short. They have a four-hour fuel cycle which is a long fuel cycle for any aircraft."
Each scooper has two 600-gallon tanks capable of skimming 1,200 gallons of water off in just eight-to-12 seconds. Pilot Brandon Robertson can then release the tanks simultaneously or one at a time.
"They’re the first aircraft in the world designed specifically for the purpose of ariel fire suppression," explained Robertson. "And the concept behind it is basically getting gallons of water an hour to a fire so Lake McDonald is close to the fire and we’re able to get 30 or 40 drops an hour per aircraft on the fire."
Through the agreement with Canada, the scoopers are stationed at Glacier Park International Airport are available as needed to fire management organizations in the state. However, they’re most effective on fires within 25 miles of a water body.
"Lake McDonald is an ideal lake for us to operate out of because there’s no reefs, there are no obstructions in the water," Robertson said. "Typically the wind favors a down length pick-up so the terrain in the area there is some steam climbing to do but we’ve been able to operate safely this past week two weeks."
If you see the scoopers working fires, fire managers ask to please remember drones will shut down aviation resources so make sure to keep them far away.
"Drones are a definite growing problem in firefighting operations," Robertson said. "If there is a drone spotted in the are we have to pull off the fire and we can’t do our job."
So far drones haven’t shut down operations on any fires burning in Glacier National Park.
Fire managers said the two scoopers will be available for as long as they’re needed to help battle wildfires in Montana.