Possibly the smallest fire extinguishers available are our 0.6kg Dry Powder and 0.8litre AFFF foam disposables which pack a small but mighty punch sufficient to snuff out an errant barbeque, burning waste bin or camp fire.
But what do you use when faced with a fire raging over 164 square miles apart from run for the hill’s, or rather not if, as it happens to be in this case, it is the hills that are burning over vast swathes of California.
The deadly fires that have claimed the lives of two firefighters, destroyed countless homes and blackened more than 100,000 acres around Los Angeles prompted the States authorities to call up the world’s largest fire extinguisher – a Boeing 747 that can drop 20,000 gallons, that’s close to 100,000 litres of fire retardant, enough to cover an area the width of a football field and over three miles long.
Nearly 2,600 firefighters, drafted from all over the US are throwing everything at the blaze, and on Monday they called in the Boeing “Supertanker”, as of now the biggest extinguisher ever used on a fire. The plane made its first-ever drop in the continental United States when fire officials summoned it to fight a fire east of Los Angeles on Monday. After the successful first drop, the Supertanker was called back into action the same evening to make further drops on the massive fire burning north of America’s second largest city, which had grown to more than 164 square miles and threatened 10,000 homes.
The Fahrenheit Supertanker, a modified Boeing 747-100, can deliver it’s 20,000 gallons of fire retardant with considerable accuracy making multiple separate controlled drops during a single flight using a pressurised delivery system not that dissimilar to your standard hand held fire extinguisher, just a whole lot bigger.
Bowser planes are not new of course. My earlier blog told of such a plane I saw used on the fires on my Greek holiday isle which was a modified Flying Boat but looked too small to be a Martin Mars, but by comparison they carried at most a few thousand gallons of seawater. Before the Supertanker hit the skies the largest airborne fire fighter was a modified McDonnel Douglas DC-10 carrying a 12000 gallon payload but without the sophistication of controlled discharge nozzles.
There has long been debate on the usefulness and of all things cost-effectiveness of airborne fire fighters, but from what I have seen they can make the difference and how do you count the cost of the potential lives that are saved and the environmental devastation averted.
Don’t forget that big fires like those in California don’t start out that way. Just one small spark from an untended fire, one carelessly discarded cigarette or empty bottle is all it takes – which brings me nicely back to where I started. If you are on the move in the car, in the caravan, enjoying the countryside or enjoying a barbeque in your back garden and you get careless or misfortune strikes, having even a small disposable 0.6kg powder fire extinguisher may well be enough to prevent the kind of hell on Earth witnessed in the Golden State.