Fires

This modified 747 could soon be California’s biggest weapon in fighting wildfires

FILE - This May 5, 2016, file photo provided by Global Supertanker Services shows a Boeing 747 making a demonstration water drop at Colorado Springs Airport in Colorado Springs, Colo. Federal officials have given a giant airtanker capable of carrying 19,200 gallons (72,700 liters) approval to fight wildfires in the U.S., but a lack of contracts currently limits the aircraft to California and one county in Colorado. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Interagency Airtanker Board issued the approval on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.
FILE - This May 5, 2016, file photo provided by Global Supertanker Services shows a Boeing 747 making a demonstration water drop at Colorado Springs Airport in Colorado Springs, Colo. Federal officials have given a giant airtanker capable of carrying 19,200 gallons (72,700 liters) approval to fight wildfires in the U.S., but a lack of contracts currently limits the aircraft to California and one county in Colorado. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Interagency Airtanker Board issued the approval on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. AP

Some of the summer’s worst wildfires have spanned tens of thousands of acres in California.

As heat waves continue in the dry season, a new weapon may soon be at firefighters’ disposal to help combat wildfires across the state.

The Global SuperTanker – a converted Boeing 747-400 jet capable of dropping 19,000 gallons of water or fire retardant – on Tuesday received interim approval from the Interagency Airtanker Board, Fireaviation.com reported, clearing it for use over the next 17 months.

Before that, it had been grounded by the government. A CBS News story from mid-July reported Global SuperTanker founder Jim Wheeler’s frustrations with the situation. Despite the aircraft receiving FAA approval last September and fighting fires in other countries, the U.S. Forest Service was only issuing contracts to planes that dropped between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons.

“There’s a lot of cost involved in doing this, a lot of testing and a lot of paperwork, and I think that scares most people,” Wheeler told CBS News.

An Orange County Register editorial published late Monday – a day before the interim approval was given – urged the Forest Service to cut the red tape and let the SuperTanker fly.

Soon, it will be able to – but not everywhere. The lack of contracts limits the aircraft’s use to California and one county in Colorado.

Wheeler said Wednesday the company is close to signing contracts with the two states.

Watch videos of the SuperTanker in action, fighting fires in Chile:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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