Wildfire-fighting plane is shut down as fire season begins

DENVER — The world’s largest firefighting plane has been shut down just as Western states prepare for a wildfire season that fire officials fear could be worse than the average year.

Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said via email Friday that the state’s Department of Natural Resources was alerted to the shutdown of the worlds’ largest firefighting plane called the Global SuperTanker. Representatives from that department didn’t immediately respond to questions about how that move could affect the state’s firefighting efforts.

The decision to cease the SuperTanker’s operations was first reported by Fire Aviation, an industry website that reported an email was sent this week to officials in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the U.S. government saying that the investor group that owns the plane was shutting it down.

A spokesman for company that operates the plane, Global SuperTanker Services LLC, declined to comment Friday.

The Global SuperTanker is a converted Boeing 747 plane that can dump up to 19,200 gallons (72,678 liters) of water or flame retardant in just six seconds and fly as low as 200 feet (61 meters) above the ground to do its work. It can be refilled in just 13 minutes.

The SuperTanker has helped in many Western wildfires and was deployed in Israel in 2016 and in Chile in 2017. Costs can run as much as $250,000 a day.

Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.