Failed propeller leads Cal Fire to ground fleet of air attack planes statewide

The agency ordered its fleet of 15 OV-10 A Broncos not to fly Monday after a propeller on one of the planes failed.|

Cal Fire grounded a fleet of planes Monday that help direct other aircraft where to dump retardant on wildland blazes, as a record-breaking heat wave across California continues to keep firefighters busy and fuels fears of new fires breaking out.

Cal Fire ordered its fleet of 15 OV-10 A Broncos not to fly Monday after a propeller on one of the planes failed while the aircraft was still on the ground, according to Cal Fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean.

He said mechanics had been dispatched to check on all of the fleet. The plane in question was based in Southern California, McLean said.

“They are a very vital tool. It’s critical these aircraft get back in the air,” McLean said.

Air attack planes - often referred to as Cal Fire’s “eyes in the sky” - are used by crews to manage aerial assaults on fires and direct air tanker pilots where to unload payloads of retardant.

McLean said air tankers are not currently necessary for battling the Jerusalem fire in Lake County or for other blazes around the state. But concerns about flare-ups and new blazes breaking out lent urgency to getting the air attack planes cleared to fly again.

McLean did not have an estimate for when the work might be completed.

“We’re on it hot and heavy,” he said.

A few hours later, McLean said five of the aircraft were cleared for flights after passing safety inspections.

He said Cal Fire has two other aircraft - one each in Northern and Southern California - that can temporarily fill in to help manage air attacks. The agency also can seek assistance from the U.S. Forest Service.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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