The last of the big air tankers will take to the air this year to battle wildfires all across the country. That one of those tankers belongs to Minden Air is a point of pride for Carson Valley, but it is also a reminder of days gone by when the large tankers were based at Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Capable of dropping a payload of nearly 2,100 gallons, Minden Air’s P2V Neptune is a welcome sight at a wildfire.
We remember when former East Fork Fire Chief Jim Reinhardt had a collection of model aircraft he’d modified as examples of air tankers. In the 1990s, the need didn’t seem quite so desperate.
But now, with fewer and fewer big tankers available for firefighting, developing a new generation of fire bombers is more critical than ever.
Fires aren’t getting any cheaper to fight, either. With more people moving into what firefighters call the wildland interface, there’s more than just trees to protect in the forest. A second dry winter in a row will make this a more severe fire season than last year’s which scorched wide swaths of the Pine Nut Mountains and claimed two homes.
We know work is under way on the next generation of air tankers. A Bae-146 jet tanker out of Montana has been approved for a contract with the Forest Service, which said it will be announcing contracts for newer turbine-powered tankers. Those tankers can fly faster with heavier payloads. Hopefully, reinforcements will be available to help battle wildfires in the near future.