Air attack crews at McClellan explain how red fire retardant slows wildfire spread

Local News

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) – The air tankers based at the Sacramento McClellan Airport are touching down, fueling up and taking off to battle multiple Northern California fires.

“The DC 10 that just took off holds 9,400 gallons,” Cal Fire Capt. Austin Palmiere told FOX40 Tuesday.

The captain is one of the people in charge at the base.

“The planes will go out and drop ahead of the crews on the ground and lay the retardant down. And then the crews will come in and actually stop the fire, so it slows the spread,” Palmiere explained.

Palmiere said the ingredients in the red fire retardant are something of a trade secret, but a web search reveals a company called Perimeter Solutions makes a red fire retardant called Phos-Chek.

According to the company’s website, fire management agencies around the world rely on it and the U.S. Forest Service approved it.

The fire-suppression ingredient in Phos-Chek is ammonium polyphosphate. Red coloring is added for visibility.

Phos-Chek is delivered as a concentrate, then mixed with water in tanks before it’s transferred into planes.

The color fades in sunlight over time and the company says the product is environmentally friendly.

Some observers may question the effectiveness of fire retardant when considering the spread of the Dixie Fire, but there are other factors in play.

For example, the wind sometimes causes the fire to jump over the retardant lines and then there are days when, for safety reasons, the tankers are not able to fly.

The airport is home to 13 aircraft, and they will fly sunup to sundown as long as conditions are not too smoky.

Smoke has been a problem at times when fighting the Dixie Fire.

“When there are periods of smoky conditions, they’ll come sit down. But as soon as that smoke clears, they go right back out,” Palmiere explained.

Palmiere said the fire retardant remains one of the most effective tools at slowing wildfire, even on exceptionally dry vegetation.

“It’ll coat and cover the fuels. It’ll even dry on the fuels and it’s still effective from the point that it’s still wet all the way to the point where it’s dry. It’ll continue to act in the same manner with slowing the spread,” Palmiere said.

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