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State Retiring Fire-Fighting Plane

By Megan V. Williams

Wilmington, NC – By the end of fire season this fall, North Carolina will have one less tool to fight wild land blazes.

The state is grounding its major scooper plane.

The CL-215 aircraft is designed to skim water from the surface of lakes and rivers, dropping up to 14,000 gallons of water at a time on forest fires.

But according to spokesperson Brian Haines, repair parts for the nearly 40-year-old aircraft are increasingly expensive, and that's before you add the more than $10,000-per-hour price tag for operating it.

"You start looking at the numbers to the amount of time that the plane actually is in the air, and the cost of the plane," Haines said, "you can take that money and really put it toward other uses that would probably be more effective."

Haines said grounding the plane would not lower the state's readiness to fight wildfires, saying the aircraft's main function was trying to drown out fires when they started. "But once the fire is fully going, the CL-215 is just one more tool that we use," he said. "We have lots of tools in our arsenal."

Haines says he's heard mixed responses from rangers out in the field.

"They recognize that the CL-215 has been a good tool in the past, but you know, yes, it's probably outlived its usefulness at this point as far as being able to financially keep it up in the air."

Forest Resources is looking at possibly purchasing another fire-fighting aircraft, according to Haines, but currently has no specific plans to replace the CL-215.

The CL-215 plane was used to fight the Pender County fires this past spring. Haines says the Division also lends the aircraft to other states and federal fires.

View WHQR's photo gallery of the Hampstead fires.


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