Canadian firefighting plane scoops Martha’s Vineyard waters

Canadian firefighting plane scoops Martha’s Vineyard waters

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A large yellow plane trimmed in red and white that swooped down over State Beach and Sengekontacket Pond last Sunday prompted calls to the Dukes County Communications Center from a few startled Islanders.

The airplane’s activities were part of a firefighting demonstration planned and managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Bureau of Forest Fire Control. The Canadian CL-415, an amphibious aircraft purpose-built as a water bomber, was provided by SOPFUE, a private, nonprofit organization in Quebec, dedicated to fighting forest fires.

The aircraft is especially useful in curtailing running crown fires, which advance from the top to top of trees or shrubs independent of surface fires, so ground resources can contain them, according to DCR.

With “scoop runs” from nearby water sources, the CL-415 can drop 1,600 gallons of water per pass and up to 19,200 gallons per hour on a fire, equivalent to the capacity of 32 “brush breaker” fire trucks.

About 50 Cape and Martha’s Vineyard firefighters, Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) personnel, and observers from the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service attended Sunday’s demonstration.

DCR District 1 Fire Warden Joshua Nigro, who organized the event, said he did not notify the local media beforehand because he wanted to keep it low-key.

Sunday’s activities included a walk-around of the aircraft at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, scoop runs off State Beach, and water drops at Willow Tree Bottom in the Manuel Correllus State Forest.

A YouTube video is available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=W0z6OiMnaKg#at=25.

Mr. Nigro said Quebec and Massachusetts already have a history of mutual aid. A few years ago, DCR sent crews to Quebec to help fight forest fires.

Although based in Canada, the CL-415 can reach Martha’s Vineyard in about 90 minutes to two hours, Mr. Nigro said, which would be faster than transporting additional fire fighting crews by ferry.

The Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission sponsored the demonstration, which was funded through a U.S. Forest Service grant.