A U.S. Firefighting Supertanker Aids in the Amazon Fires


pixabay.com (U.S. Air Force photo by Robb Lingley)

The Firefighting-Supertanker Airplane that can drop up to 19,000 gallons of fire retardant in one trip.

On August 24, 2019, a firefighting-supertanker airplane flew from the U.S. to the Amazon rainforest to bring firefighters to help others battling the immense blaze in Brazil. This unique airplane is a B747-400; it’s in the category of Very Large Airtankers (VLAT). This plane is specifically designed and used to extinguish fires. It is capable of dropping up to 19,000 gallons of retardant for each trip it makes. 

The Amazon rainforest spans eight countries, including Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia, though the majority of the forest is in Brazil. This forest is often called “the planet’s lungs” because it provides about 20% of the world’s oxygen. These fires are burning at the highest rate since Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (“the institute”) began tracking them in 2013. 

Why is the Amazon rainforest on fire? The institute reports that since last year at this same time, there has been an 80% increase in deforestation. Deforestation is part of the reason for the fires, but why do people do this when they know it is harming the rainforest? They do it for agricultural reasons — to plant new crops, like soybeans — and for cattle grazing. They do it for mining and logging, too. After clearing an area of land in the forest, farmers start the fires, themselves, using “slash-and-burn techniques,” to put nutrients in the soil for their crops. However, sometimes the fires get out of control and spread further than intended. And sometimes the fires are also started by illegal loggers and miners to drive away indigenous people, those people who are native to this land. (Vox.com, August 30, 2019)

Dan Reese, the president of Global SuperTanker, the company that owns the B747-400 plane, traveled to South America as part of a 14-person team to help battle the fires. Yes, the president of the company literally was in the line of fire. He said that there are  “an unbelievable number of fires” in the Amazon rainforest, and his company is part of the response. The company said that it had completed three missions and was preparing for a fourth. Brazilian President Morales was very thankful for Global SuperTankers’ help. He said, “I appreciate the efforts of so many compatriots, men, and women, who work on this hard task. We face this battle against fire together.” (wtkr.com, by CNN wire, August 25, 2019)

As of October 2019, the fires in the Amazon have decreased 35.5% compared to August of this year, according to data published by the National Institute for Space Research. But this could just be a temporary decrease. The present government of Brazil, under President Bolsonaro, seems more interested in making money off of the Amazon rainforest’s resources, rather than preserving it. His administration has cut way back on enforcing laws to protect the rainforest. And that could be devastating for all of us.