VAN NUYS >> Five years of drought has turned Southern California into an explosive tinderbox. So the early arrival Saturday of firefighting SuperScoopers were especially welcome to help save the day.
The two Canadian water bombers touched down at 3:50 p.m. at Van Nuys Airport after all-day flights from their home province of Quebec. Normally leased for three months each fall, it may be their earliest arrival yet in Los Angeles.
“We’re excited,” said Inspector Gustavo Medina, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “We’re glad they’re back. They’ll be a tremendous help -- they’re now local, and can be deployed quickly on any brush fire.”
• Related Story: As the Sand fire rages on, here’s why LA County still doesn’t have Superscoopers
“They’re early, because of the early brushfire season,” he said.
The two fixed-wing Bombardier CL-415 SuperScoopers were approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for a five-year, $41.25 million lease, from Sept. 1 through the end of November, in what was once considered the fire season.
They will likely go into service Monday. A formal unveiling will take place Friday at their new home in Van Nuys.
Like the spring return of the cliff swallows to Capistrano, the return of the iconic yellow-and-red SuperScoopers has been an autumn rite relished by residents and plane watchers.
It was in 1993, just after the Old Topanga firestorm torched around 350 homes, that Los Angeles County first contracted the air tankers and crews from the Canadian province for use during its off-season.
Since then, the amphibious aircraft capable of scooping 1,620 gallons of water from the Pacific Ocean or inland reservoir in 12 seconds have become almost synonymous with Southern California’s fall fire season.
• Photos: SuperScoopers arrive at Van Nuys Airport
Except their arrival three weeks early came too late to help snuff out the fast-moving Sand Fire, which last month charred more than 38,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest between Santa Clarita and Lake View Terrace, destroying 18 homes and killing a man who didn’t evacuate.
An Erickson Air-Crane helicopter, capable of dropping 2,600 gallons of water, arrived Aug. 1.
When combined with county and city firefighting helicopters based in Pacoima, the air fleet can drop more than 5,000 gallons of water in a first assault, firefighters say.
But with the fall fire season now creeping into summer, Los Angeles County officials asked if it was time to buy a water-dropping Superscooper for year-round use.
“When the L.A. County Fire Department initially began leasing the SuperScoopers, purchasing them was cost prohibitive,” Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said last month. “But due to the extreme ongoing risk of fires associated with the drought, it’s imperative that county fire re-evaluate the possibility of purchasing such SuperScoopers.”
The county, which leased four SuperScoopers last year, now pays roughly $1,100 per hour to operate each plane. Buying just one for its year-round hangar would cost $37 million.
Known for their spectacular water pickups and high-altitude climbing muscle, the vaunted aircraft have caught the public imagination. But critics have long said SuperScoopers aren’t as effective as helicopters in steep canyons and high winds..
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