State tests effectiveness of new, blue fire retardant |

State tests effectiveness of new, blue fire retardant

Dave Moller

Tribune News Service. The Grass Valley Interagency Air Attack Base is testing a blue fire retardant.

For years, firefighting planes have dropped bright red retardant on blazes all over Northern California.

Not to make a fashion statement, but to see how other blaze arresters work, the Grass Valley Interagency Air Attack Base is dropping a blue fire suppressant this season. According to Capt. Russ Rogers, the blue gel is non-toxic and is more of a water-based extinguishing agent that doesn’t linger on the landscape like retardant can.

It’s all part of a statewide test with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection bombers to see what they do and don’t like about products on the market. Rogers said the base could get a batch with another color and characteristics later this summer.

“We’ll run them neck-and-neck in similar fire situations for a true evaluation,” Rogers said, adding that one base plane will use the standard red retardant and the other using whatever is new.

The blue retardant is lighter than the red, freeing up 5,500 pounds, or almost three tons, on the drop planes. That gives room for more fuel and better coverage time and distances.

“It’s lighter and we can put more fuel in our tankers so we can go farther,” said CDF spokeswoman Tina Rose.

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The new substance can be dropped directly on a fire, rather than being dropped in front of a fire’s path, said Rose.

“The gel, we’re dropping it right on the fire to put it out,” Rose said.

The blue retardant already came in handy close to home. Base pilot Joe Satrapa was returning from a fire out of the area last week when he dropped some blue goo on a fire in the Loomis Basin.

The drop extinguished part of the fire and suppressed it enough to let hand crews mop it up quickly, Rogers said.

“It gives aerial guys a chance to see drops and where the fire line needs to be cut (by ground crews),” Rogers said.

So far, too few missions have been completed to truly determine the effectiveness of the blue suppressant.

“A couple drops doesn’t make a test,” Rose said.

But Rose said that the pilots are happier with lighter loads that make flying near fires a little safer.

“If the planes are lighter, it is safer,” she said.

The new fire product will not be used on forest service land or other federally held land. It will be dropped on state-controlled property if a fire breaks out, said Rose.