The Boeing 737 is one of 24 new aircraft contracted to the state for the summer
By: Brittany Hope
MCCLELLAN PARK, Calif. —
Cal Fire is getting help from the land down under as the state’s fire season begins to ramp up.
A 737 Boeing air tanker and crew from New South Wales in Australia are in Sacramento for the summer, stationed at McClellan Air Tanker Base.
“We actually had a need for one additional large air tanker and there was only one left in the world we could possibly use,” Stu Sprung, the chief of flight operations for Cal Fire, said. “We reached out to Australia, to New South Wales, and asked if they would be willing to come here for a 90-day contract to help be here for our fire season.”
The plane used to be owned by Southwest Airlines for commercial travel, was converted into an air tanker by Coulson Aviation.
It has a 4,000-gallon fire retardant capacity. Many of the air tankers Cal Fire uses hold 3,000 gallons.
Australians, Americans, and Canadians are working together on the plane.
“Every year we work here under contract, we take back knowledge and share that with everyone,” Jonathan Young, the aircraft maintenance engineer and second crew chief, told KCRA 3. “If anything, California has definitely been doing that for a longer period of time, with regards to aerial fire fighting. In Australia, we’re quite new to that.”
Australians say the fires they deal with at home are similar to the Golden State’s fire patterns.
“There’s actually quite a lot of similarities between the Australian bush fire season and the California fire season,” Tony Franc, the air tanker pilot, explained. “We’ve got a lot of eucalyptus. Trees burn quick and fast. We’ve noticed that similar here. Fires burn fast because of the dry conditions.”
Right now, it’s currently winter in Australia, so crews say working in the U.S. during their offseason is great training.