Case Study

Fighting fire from above

Social development Disaster response

When in August 2014 the Swedish province of Västmanland, 140 kilometres northwest of Stockholm, was engulfed by a massive forest fire airborne water bombers played a vital role in slowing, and then starting to turn back, the advancing flames.

Following the declaration of a national emergency, Bombardier CL-415 specialist water bombers from Italy and France were drafted in to help fight the fires. Sweden’s emergency services had the use of 15 civil and military helicopters but they could carry only limited amounts of water it was not until the arrival of the CL-415 “Superscoopers” that the fires began to be brought under control. The area where the fire started has only a few roads, making it difficult for fire-fighters on the ground to reach the blaze.

The CL-415 is one of the world’s most effective fire-fighting assets. It can scoop up to 6,140 litres of water from a nearby lake and drop it on a fire without having to return to base to refill its tanks. But it is a highly skilled operation, with the aircraft skimming along the lake for 12 seconds at exactly 70 knots (130 kmh) to fill the water tanks with thousands of litres of water, before precisely dropping the aircraft on to the smoking trees below. Each aircraft stays airborne for as long as possible, making more than 10 runs a day to make maximum use of the aircraft’s capabilities.

The CL-415 can use a variety of fire-fighting chemicals but because the most powerful fire-fighting foams were not certified for use in Sweden the water bombers did the job using lake water.

Sweden requested the use of specialist fire-bombers through the European Union’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) and the aircraft arrived just a few days later, two from Italy via the disaster response agency Protezione Civile and three from France via Sécurité Civile.

As well helping extinguish the fires, aircraft played other vital roles in helping control the spread of the fire. A Swedish Coast Guard (Kustbevakningen) Bombardier Dash-8 Q300 surveillance aircraft based at Skavsta Airport near Stockholm helped track the movement of the fire with infrared and video imaging cameras.