World's only 747 supertanker fights deadly California fires

As devastating fires burn through California's Wine Country, an aircraft that can drop almost 20,000 gallons of water arrives to help.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
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The state of California has enlisted one of the most powerful firefighting tools on the planet: a modified Boeing 747 aircraft that can drop 19,200 gallons of fire retardant.  

The aircraft flew six flights over devastating fires across Napa and Sonoma counties in Northern California yesterday from its base near Sacramento. San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX recorded the aircraft with air-to-air video as it dumped red fire retardant over a burning hillside.

Global Supertanker, the aircraft's owner, says the 747 Supertanker can refill with gel, foam or water in just 30 minutes and can fly at 600 miles per. Now called The Spirit of John Muir, its the largest firefighting airplane in the world by far.


The flightpath from the Supertanker's last path over the fires yesterday shows a series of loops. 


Built in 1991, the 747-400 first flew for Japan Airlines before being converted to a tanker aircraft in 2012 by its previous owner Evergreen International Airlines. Though the aircraft has been under contract by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection since last month, previous missions have taken it to Chile Israel, Mexico and Spain. 

Since they started burning last weekend, 11 fires in California's Wine Country have killed at least 11 people, injured at least 100 and burned at least 1,500 homes and businesses. In Santa Rosa, California, entire neighborhoods were destroyed.

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