California Wildfires: How a Modified Airliner Delivers Its Firefighting Power

When firefighters need to deliver a powerful punch in one swoop, they turn to a former passenger jet modified to deliver a knockout from the sky. The DC-10 Airtanker looks and sounds like a commerical airliner, but it's been converted to hold 50 tons of water or fire retardant, which can be dropped in a long line to prevent a fire from spreading.

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AP
An air tanker drops retardant onto a wildfire, Thursday, July 26, 2018, near Mountain Center, Calif. A fast-moving wildfire, believed to have been sparked by arson, tore through trees, burned homes and forced evacuation orders for an entire mountain town as California sweltered under a heat wave and battled ferocious fires at both ends of the state.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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AP
FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, file photo, an air tanker drops fire retardant on a burning hillside in the Ranch Fire in Clearlake Oaks, Calif. Some 14,000 firefighters are battling 18 major blazes burning hundreds of square miles throughout California with aircraft, assorted vehicles and picks and shovels. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson, File)
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Noah Berger/AP
An air tanker drops retardant on a wildfire above the Spring Lakes community on Sunday, June 24, 2018, near Clearlake Oaks, California.
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Josh Edelson/AP
A spotter plane banks in front of an air tanker as it drops fire retardant on a burning hillside during the Ranch Fire in Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. The White House approved California's request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration on Saturday, opening up more federal support, in response to the 17 fires burning across the state that have forced thousands to evacuate and led to multiple deaths.
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Getty Images
A firefighting air tanker drops Foscheck fire retardant on a hillside ahead of the County Fire on July 2, 2018 in Esparto, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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A firefighting air tanker at base in the Santa Rosa area.
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A DC-10 firefighting jet drops fire retardant on the northern flank of a wildfire threatening thousands of homes on November 16, 2008 near Diamond Bar and Chino Hills, California.
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A view of the external tank under the DC-10 firefighting jet, seen here near the North Fire, which caused people to abandon their vehicles and flee as flames jumped the 215 Freeway on July 17, 2015 near Victorville, California.
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Tanker 910, a DC-10 airliner modified for aerial firefighting, drops fire retardant on the 24-square-mile Butler 2 Fire on September 18, 2007 near Fawnskin, California. The converted passenger jet can carry 50 tons of water or fire retardant and drop 12,000 gallons in as little as eight seconds.
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A DC-10 jet converted to a firefighting aircraft drops Phos-Check fire retardant over the Piute fire on July 1, 2008 south of Isabella Lake, California. Before the California Department of Forestry (CDF) and Forest Protection activated Tanker 910, it carried up to 285 passengers for American Airlines and later as many as 380 on charter flights flown by Omni Air International to Hawaii.
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A DC-10 air tanker drops fire retardant on a ridge ahead of the advancing Rim Fire on August 22, 2013 in Groveland, California.
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A converted DC-10 Air Tanker drops fire retardant along a ridge to protect communities that border the wilderness at the San Gabriel Complex Fire in the Angeles National Forest on June 21, 2016 near Monrovia, California.
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A DC-10 air tanker drops Foscheck fire retardant on a hillside ahead of the King Fire on September 17, 2014 in Pollock Pines, California.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 29: A DC10 plane used for firefighting drops fire retardent on the Station fire in the Altadena and La Canada Flintridge foothills above Los Angeles on August 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. A broad swath of the northern Crescenta Valley was evacuated today, as the out of control Station Fire tripled in size to more than 20,000 acres and burned towards homes from Pasadena to the San Fernando Valley. The wildfireire, which broke out Wednesday afternoon near a ranger station and the Angeles Crest Highway above La Canada Flintridge, has forced the evacuation of 4,000 homes. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Steven Luke
Firefighters take pictures of the Airtanker as it arrives in San Diego in May 2014.
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A view from above the Airtanker as it makes a drop June 25, 2017 over a fire in Santa Clarita.
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A DC-10 jet drops a load of Phos-Chek fire retardant on its first day as a fire-fighting aircraft on September 24, 2006 near Ojai, California. The external tank from which it drops water and fire retardant can be seen under the aircraft.
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A firefighting DC-10 Airtanker drops thousands of gallons of fire retardant to create a fireline on the southeastern flank of the nearly 10,000-acre Guiberson fire Sept. 23, 2009 near Moorpark, California.
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A DC-10 Airtanker flies through a smoky sky while dropping Phos-Chek fire retardant Oct. 4, 2009 near Wrightwood, California.
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A firefighting DC-10 plane drops fire retardant on a ridge line to protect communication towers as the Crown Fire continues to burn on July 30, 2010 in the hills above Palmdale, California.
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A firefighting DC-10 plane drops fire retardant on a ridge line to protect communication towers as the Crown Fire continues to burn on July 30, 2010 in the hills above Palmdale, California.
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A firefighting DC-10 jet drops fire retardant over the Williams fire in the Angeles National Forest on September 3, 2012 north of Glendora, California.
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