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Colorado-based firefighting supertanker deployed to California

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Source: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A Colorado-based Boeing 747-400 supertanker has been deployed to California to help fight wildfires that have destroyed dozens of buildings and caused at least one death.

Scott McLean is deputy chief of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He said Saturday the supertanker is undergoing final checks at McClellan Air Base outside Sacramento. Once cleared by the state and the U.S. Forest Service, the plane can be sent to fires anywhere in California.

Both McLean and the aircraft’s owner, Global SuperTanker Services of Colorado Springs, Colorado, say software issues must be resolved before the plane is activated under a call-when-needed contract. The aircraft can carry 19,200 gallons (72,000 liters) of water, retardant or suppressant.

Global SuperTanker CEO Jim Wheeler said in a statement that the company also has been negotiating with Colorado, which like many Western states is battling several large wildfires.

The plane first flew missions last year in California.

The plane has not yet been used in Colorado. In fact, its missions in California last year were its first in the U.S. However, Global SuperTanker recently signed a call-when-needed contract with Colorado officials that is undergoing an approval process. The company says the plane needs a software addition from the U.S. Forest Service before it can move forward.

“Colorado is our home base, and there is nothing we’d like to be doing more than working alongside the brave men and women currently fighting some of the worst fires the state has ever seen,” said Global SuperTanker CEO Jim Wheeler on Thursday. “We will work with the State of Colorado and others who need our services as quickly as possible.”

The plane was in California going through an approval process to fly in that state when the Colorado contract was signed.

“While the SuperTanker’s home is in Colorado, we serve the entire nation and even the entire world. It goes without saying that we wish the SuperTanker could be in two places at once, fighting alongside the brave men and women working around the clock to protect people and property,” Wheeler said in a statement Saturday. “The nature of call-when-needed contracts is that we go where we are called first. In this instance, that’s in California, fighting fires managed by CAL FIRE. Once the deployment is completed, we will be available to assist firefighters in Colorado or elsewhere should the SuperTanker’s services be needed.”

Global SuperTanker has provided answers to frequently asked questions about why the plane is being used in California instead of Colorado. It can be found by clicking here.

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