Moses Lake air tanker base having busy season fighting wildfires

Moses Lake air tanker base having busy season fighting wildfires

MOSES LAKE, Wash. - The roar of planes has been heard a little bit more this summer at the Moses Lake Airport. The wildfire air tanker base has been busier flying a record amount of retardant to area fires.

"We've had a lot of 100,000 gallon days," Base Manager Rob Meade said.

Since June the base has flown out 1.9 million gallons of the red mixture.

"We are the only tanker base in the state of Washington, so we cover a large area," Meade said.

The previous record of 1.4 million gallons was set in the base's first year of operation in 2001.

"It's kind of sad that we've had that many fires and there is that much destruction and everything," Meade said. "But you know we just keep pumping the mud and doing what we are told, send the planes where they want them to go."

Mead says they can accommodate planes like the massive DC-10's, all the way to small single engine planes. Wednesday a DC-10 sat on the pad, the crew had the day off. Two other planes, a P2V from Montana and an RJ85 from Arizona waited on standby for a call to action.

For pilots like William Hollenbeck of Arizona, it's been a busy last few weeks. He's flying a brand new RJ85 capable of carrying 3,000 gallons of retardant.

"I would say we have put about 65 hours on it in two weeks which is a huge number," Hollenbeck said.

The aircraft is part of a new fleet of Next Generation aircraft the U.S. Forest Service has begun to bring online. They are newer, faster planes that Hollenbeck says are a big improvement.

"Probably one of the easiest tankers I have ever flown with the capabilities," Hollenbeck said. "The level of safety has increased immensely."

"We preach a lot of safety out here," Meade said. "We try to make sure everybody knows what they are doing, everybody is very well qualified and trained for the position that we fill."

The base has four large tanks filled with retardant concentrate, they then mix that with about five parts water to create what you see dropped from the planes.

"We can put about 200,000 gallons out the door before we have to have the trucks come in and refill the tanks," Mead said.

Meade says the Moses Lake base will likely top the 2 million gallons of retardant used this season.