A National Guard member who was called in to tackle the wildfires currently raging in Colorado shot this amazing aerial view, and a member of the unit posted it on Reddit, where he and some other firefighting experts answered a few questions as well.
Some of the more interesting questions and answers:
Q. During/after you dump the load, is there a noticeable rise in altitude?
A. It also depends on the size of the bambi bucket (that’s what they’re called) and the size of the helicopter. A smaller bucket, like a 150-gallon one, being flown by an S-61 or a SkyCrane, will have less of an effect than a bigger bucket being flown by a Jet Ranger or MD-500. To quote Monty Python, “It’s a matter of weight ratios.”
The most awesome one I’ve seen was a K-Max with a 500-gallon bambi do a flare stop while dropping the water on a hillside. Basically it looked like a a massive water cannon going off, and the impact of the water knocked over a douglas fir tree that was on fire, throwing up a huge cloud of steam, ash, and sparks. Fucking amazing.
Q. What do they dump on fires? Might be a stupid question but isn’t there anything that puts out fire more effectively than water?
A. The bambi bucket in the photo is full of water. It just looks black due to the fact that it’s vibrating and I think the inside bottom of the bucket is black.
That pinkish/reddish stuff you sometimes see the planes dropping is a fire retardant. I believe it normally isn’t dropped directly on the fire, but a number of yards ahead of the fires path to slow the speed at which the brush/trees will ignite.
And to answer your question directly, no, there is not anything that denies oxygen from and cools the fire better than water that is available in massive quantities in a time-critical event such as a wildfire.
Some of the more interesting questions that did not get answered:
Q. Did you survive?
Q. How tempted were you to engage your other unit and pee on the fire?