SANTA MARIA, Calif. - With Red Flag fire warnings going up all across the state because of the dry weather, the U.S. Forest Service is taking precautions. Today, the air tanker base at the Santa Maria Airport received a huge surprise in the form of a massive fire-fighting aircraft.
It may look like a passenger airliner, but it's not. It's a DC-10 Air Tanker, a behemoth in the world of firefighting airplanes. Only 2 of it's kind exist in the world. The tank underneath holds 11,600 gallons of fire retardant, which can stretch a mile long when dumped.
The Santa Maria Airport is one of 4 air tanker bases in the state that can hold the DC-10. It flew in today on a day-by-day contract with the U.S. Forest Service.
"They brought us out just in case something else happens based on the severe drought in the state," says flight engineer Brad Pace.
Pace is responsible for dropping the retardant during a mission. While the plane sits in Santa Maria, Pace says his crew will be on-call for fires in an expansive area.
"We're here for Southern California all the way up to probably the Bay Area," says Pace.
The tanker does most of its work starting in May, going through the summer, during the typical fire season. Having it here in mid-January is rare.
"This is way out of the ordinary. The earliest we've been called up was three years ago in Texas," says Pace. "This is very unusual to even be thinking about fighting fires in January."
With the potential for fires at a high-level during this dry winter season, it's anyone's guess how long this monster firefighter will stay in Santa Maria.
"We could be here for a couple days or a week," says Pace. "It depends on when mother nature decides to give Southern California and Central California a little bit of moisture."
The U.S. Forest Service says the last time a DC-10 Air Tanker was at the Santa Maria Airport was during the fire season just last year.