Low water levels can hamper fight against wildfires

SACRAMENTO – Area lakes and rivers are used for more than just recreational use in the summer -- the water is used for fighting wildfires during the fire season.

A dry 2013-2014 rainy season has dropped water levels in those resources so low that Cal Fire officials are on edge.

"In January and February, the (water) levels were low," Ca lFire spokesperson Daniel Berlant said. "The levels increased slightly in April and May because of the snow melt, but now we will see the levels dwindling during the summer months."

The water does not completely put out wildfires, but it is used to help with the fire fight. Berlant said the water drops take the heat out of the fire, which allows firefighters on the ground to put out the fire.

The agency combines several techniques when combating wildfires. It uses the Grumman S2T plane to drop a mixture of water and retardant. Helicopters with buckets drop water over the fire area. Fire engines carry about 500 gallons of water with each load. Hand crews, the firefighters on the ground, use hoses, shovels and other tools to hold and build the fire line.

The mixture dropped from the Grumman planes is 90 percent water and 10 percent retardant. Each plane carries about 12,000 gallons of the water and retardant mixture per drop. The plane can make up to several dozen drops on a fire in one day. There are 13 air bases strategically placed throughout the state that house the fire fighting mixture. Berlant said a plane can reload within 20 minutes after drops.

The bucket of a water-dropping helicopter holds 400 gallons of water. The water source must be at least 5 feet deep in order for the bucket to be completely submerged. Berlant said the helicopter can make 100 drops on a single fire in one day. If there is no water supply nearby, the helicopter may have to travel farther for water.

A fire engine carries 500 gallons of water for each load. The water comes from a fire hydrant or a water source like a pool, river, lake or pond. The water supply doesn't have to be deep. An auxiliary pump can siphon the water.

"This is why it is so important for the public to conserve because we need water for emergencies," Berlant said.


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment