Contracts tie up SuperTanker; firefighting aircraft heading to California instead of Colorado

DENVER – A Colorado Springs-based aircraft designed to help firefighters battle massive wildfires from the air will be deployed to California – not Colorado – to help crews battle several fires that are scorching the west coast, officials announced early Saturday afternoon.

The Global SuperTanker is expected to be deployed to that state sometime Saturday after it received what officials called a “temporary card” – essentially, an approval to fight fires – from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the U.S. Forest Service on Friday night.

Wait a minute. Why isn’t Colorado getting help from the SuperTanker first?

Officials said the Global SuperTanker was already in California over the last week and was completing the paperwork needed to get approval to fly over that state when a data software issue unexpectedly delayed the process earlier this week. At around the same time, the company signed a call-when-needed contract with the State of Colorado.

In a statement sent to Denver7 on Saturday, Jim Wheeler, CEO of Globan SuperTanker Services, said that while they wished the SuperTanker could be in two places at once, the aircraft goes to where it was called first.

“In this instance, that’s in California,” said Wheeler. “Once the deployment is completed, we will be available to assist firefighters in Colorado or elsewhere should the SuperTanker’s services be needed.”

Wheeler went on to say that since the carding process is primarily driven by CAL FIRE and since CAL FIRE provided the temporary card first, it took dibs on the SuperTanker activation, skipping Colorado’s call-when-needed (CWN) contract.

Global SuperTanker officials did not say whether Colorado had also requested a temporary card on top of the call-when-needed contract the state signed off on earlier this week.

Would being carded earlier have enabled the SuperTanker to fight the Colorado fires first?

Unlikely, and here’s where bureaucracy rears its ugly head.

Officials said that the “bureaucratic obstacles we have needed to overcome to be available to do what we do best are too numerous to detail,” adding that “while we did everything in our power to get the plane ready and available in advance of fire season, unforeseen challenges prevented that from becoming a reality.”

The Global SuperTanker, a Boeing 747 aircraft, is capable of delivering multiple payload drops thanks to pressurized tanks that hold a total of 19,200 gallons. It can drop water, fire retardant or suppressant. The aircraft can make up to eight drops in a single flight.

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