The aircraft ferry fire retardant from CAL FIRE's Air Attack Base in Hollister. Ground crews hot load phos-chek, the wet clay retardant that is dropped over wildland fire hot spots. Hot loading means the crews load the retardant while the plane's engines are still running. The faster the turn-around, the longer the aircraft can make drops over the fire.
The retardant is a dry powder that gets mixed with non-potable water at the air attack base. Bright orange coloring is added so the pilot and ground crews can see exactly where it hits the ground.
"It's a wet clay, it's a fertilizer that has kind of a salt base to it -- the salt is what retards the fire from spreading," CAL FIRE Captain Marc DiTullio said.
The pilots are restricted to seven hours of flight time per day. For safety, the flights are done only during daylight hours.
CALFIRE made its first run at 7:13 a.m. Thursday, and it will make its final drop at 7:28 p.m., a half-hour before sunset. It takes 10 minutes for the aircraft to reach the fire scene from Hollister.