BOISE -- A powerful tool is helping firefighters battle the Pioneer Fire burning in the Boise National Forest.
The two planes contracted under exclusive use to the U.S. Forest Service can pick up 1,600 gallons of water in a single scoop. They can then drop all that water with incredible accuracy on a wildfire. It's why they're nicknamed "super scoopers."
"It's a pretty efficient machine. They're what's called a purpose built aircraft so their only function is to scoop water and drop it on fires, " said Kevin Merrill, national scooper program specialist for the U.S. Forest Service.
A surprisingly small scooper probe skims underneath the water as the plane passes over the surface.
"And just force of the airplane skimming across the lake fills up the tanks in about 12 seconds," Merrill added.
Pilots use a computer system in the cockpit to control the drop pattern. They can release all the load at once, called a salvo drop, or they can release it more slowly. The decision is based on what's burning.
"If you're in the heavy timber canopy like we are typically on the Pioneer Fire, it's better to get that four door, all four doors at once salvo to get that penetration through the canopy," Merrill said.
So far, the two "super scoopers" have dropped more than one million gallons of water on the Pioneer Fire since it started.
They've been making a lot of drops near Deadwood Reservoir - up to 60 in a four-hour period because of the quick turnaround from the water to the fire line.
"The niche of this aircraft is really the amount of time it can stay on station," Merrill said.
Each day, the planes are prioritized at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. They could stay on the Pioneer Fire or be sent to another higher-priority wildfire if requested.
The Pioneer Fire has now burned more than 181,000 acres. It's 56 percent contained.
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