DNR hires a new fleet of planes to douse wildfires

A Fireboss floatplane
The Fireboss floatplane sits on the tarmac at the Princeton, Minn. airport on April 3, 2015. The plane is partly manufactured in South St. Paul.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Wildfire season is well underway in Minnesota, and the Department of Natural Resources is using a new fleet planes to douse the flames.

The DNR is selling its two aging airtankers after the manufacturer stopped supporting the aircraft. Instead the agency is contracting with the Appleton, Minn.-based company Aero Spray to fly six single-engine turboprops.

Pilot Jesse Weaver said four of the planes have floats that can land on lakes and scoop up water.

Jesse Weaver
Jesse Weaver, chief firefighting pilot for Aero Spray Inc. of Appleton, Minn, sits in the cockpit of a Fireboss single-engine turboprop at the airport in Princeton, Minn. on April 3, 2015.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

"We can load off of an airport, a tanker base, go straight to the fire with a load on board, and if there's a water source nearby we can start scooping," Weaver said.

The new planes are also more efficient. "Two of these would have more capacity than one of the larger scoopers for less money," Weaver said. "It's a small airplane that packs a pretty good punch."

The DNR says the contract for the smaller aircraft will save taxpayers around $700,000 a year.

Ron Stoffel, the DNR's wildfire suppression supervisor, said the dry winter has heightened the danger for fires this year. More than 6,000 acres have burned so far in around 300 separate fires.

Burning restrictions are currently in effect across much of the state. This week the DNR extended bans on the burning of brush and yard waste to parts of north-central and northeastern Minnesota.

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