SuperTanker that fought California fires flies from Sacramento to battle Bolivia’s blazes

The Global SuperTanker, the world’s largest firefighting airplane that helped control major California wildfires, has flown to South America from Sacramento McClellan Airport to help curb the spread of forest fires in Bolivia.

The jet, a converted Boeing 747 that can drop up to 19,000 gallons of water or fire retardant, flew from Sacramento to Bolivia on Thursday night. It made at least 10 trips throughout the weekend to help contain the flames, according to Facebook posts by Global SuperTanker Services, the Colorado-based company that owns the jet.

While Brazil has received international attention for the fires burning the Amazon rainforest, part of which extends into Bolivia, Bolivia is also seeing its own destructive fires. The Chiquitano forest, near the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s economic center, has seen blazes larger than those in past fire seasons.

The decision by Bolivia’s President Evo Morales to lease the SuperTanker comes as South American leaders face increasing pressure to contain the fires in their countries that are threatening hundreds of species. The same day the SuperTanker landed in Bolivia, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he would send military troops to help contain the Amazon fires.

Leaders of the Group of Seven nations meeting in Biarritz, France, pledged Sunday to help Brazil battle the fires and assist with reforestation when they are extinguished.

During California’s past fire seasons, the red and white jet flew around the state. Contracting with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Global SuperTanker Services sent the jet to Camp Fire, as well as to the Ranch, Call, Front and Donnell fires.

Before the SuperTanker flew to Bolivia, it had been training at Sacramento McClellan Airport in June. The training routes took pilots throughout Sacramento and near the state Capitol.

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Elaine Chen, from the University of Chicago, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in the Bay Area and later in Beijing, China.