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Ukiah fire fuels busiest firefighting summer since 2008

  • CAL FIRE fire fighters Jamin Perkins, left, and Ekota Graham fill an air tanker with fire retardant at the Sonoma Air Attack Base at the Sonoma County Airport on Sunday, September 9, 2012 in Santa Rosa, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Cal Fire aerial bombers played a critical role Sunday in slowing down a fire that was burning in steep, rugged terrain east of Ukiah.

As of Sunday night, the fire was only 15 percent contained and had consumed 4,100 acres in an area bordered by Scotts Valley Road, Highway 20 and the north Cow Mountain Recreation Area.

Three hundred homes and 40 other buildings were threatened.

Scotts Fire 9.07.12


"It is like in a bowl, and it went up the hill and nothing could stop that, but we stopped it at the top of the ridge," said Jerome Laval, a Cal Fire pilot who on Sunday was flying aerial bombers for a third day against the fire.

The air attack involved seven air tankers and five helicopters that were dropping a reddish-colored retardant in an effort to keep the fire from spreading.

Thirty-eight miles away in Santa Rosa, at the Cal Fire Air Attack Base, a well-choreographed routine kept the tankers in the air and fighting.

At intervals of 15 to 30 minutes throughout the day, four Grumman S2 tankers took off and landed at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. The tankers last saw duty as carrier-based submarine hunters in the 1960s.

The planes taxied to the Cal Fire facility and within a few minutes took on 1,200 gallons of retardant, underwent cursory safety inspections and were back in the air.

The retardant is made of salt, water, a thickening agent, red coloring and phosphates, creating a fertilizer-like mixture that releases water vapor when it hits flames.

It is held in 20,000-gallon tanks and pumped at a rate of 500 gallons per minute into the aircraft as it sits idling on the taxiway.

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