Washington DNR hopes to add world’s largest firefighting plane to arsenal

MOSES LAKE, Wash. — The Washington Department of Natural Resources hopes to add the world’s largest firefighting aircraft to its arsenal.

Wildfire season is an unfortunate reality in the northwest and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz hopes the 747 Global Supertanker will assist in the annual firefight.

The aircraft is the only one of its kind and can carry up to 19,000 gallons of water or fire retardant. It has not yet been used in Washington, but it has made many missions in Oregon and California as well as others overseas.

The funding for it would come from House Bill 1168, which is making its way through the Washington Senate right now.

That bill would provide roughly $70 million in funding every two years in Washington for more firefighting resources, like the Supertanker.

“I have 11 helicopters to fight fires; almost all of them fought in the Vietnam war,” Franz said.

Franz wants both state and federal lawmakers to commit more to fire preparedness and prevention.

“I have seen firsthand the importance of initial attack,” Franz said. “Here in Washington, we do not have the air assets we need.”

HB1168 seeks to provide more of those assets. Through the bill, lawmakers are seeking protection for homes, properties and communities across Washington, and promise an annual evaluation of expenditures, implementation of the wildland protection 10-year strategic plan and recommendations for adjustments.

The Supertanker was on display in Moses Lake Tuesday because Franz believes it would make a good location for a federal aviation center.

It’s also going to be getting some upgrades over the next few weeks at the Grant County International Airport.

“Moses Lake is an unbelievably perfectly situated place,” Franz said.

She said the town has already shown ability to work with aircraft technology, like helping Boeing evolve in the last several years.

The location is also best fitted to help the entire region battle wildfires.

“Alaska, 2 million acres in 2019 burned, B.C., 3 million acres a year,” Franz said. “Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Oregon; we are the hub for that we can get to any one of those states with resources quickly.”

Because it would serve several different states each year, Franz believes the funding should be split among states, as well as the federal government.

After all, it costs several million dollars just to get that Supertanker in the air.

“We’ve got to be investing up front,” Franz said. “That means we need to invest more air resources.”