Fire Retardant Drops Crucial to Battling Lolo Complex - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Fire Retardant Drops Crucial to Battling Lolo Complex

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LOLO CREEK -

Eight helicopters and other aircraft have dropped more than 600,000 gallons of water and 200,000 gallons of retardant on blazes in Lolo.

Officials with a fire retardant company called "Phos-check" said retardant is 80% more effective than water alone, and in some cases, it can even serve as an indirect fire line.

Helicopters and other aircraft swoop down to mobile retardant sites and hover over 5,000-gallon steel takes before scooping up retardant -- or sucking it through a hose.

"It's basically, like a thick water, it's just kind of gooey, it coats the fuels, and it stays on the fuels, once it's dried it's effective up until it's washed off by about a quarter-inch of rain," said Joe Hart, an operations leader with Phos-check.

Hart said his company's long-term fire retardant is primarily a phosphate-based fertilizer.

"It contains retardant salts, typically fertilizers that alter the activity of a fire, decreasing the intensity and slowing the advance of a fire," he said.

Hart said they pull the retardant from 2,000-pound bins through a hose, into mobile tanks, where it's mixed with 1,754 gallons of water, which yields 1,869 gallons of mixed retardant.

He said after the red retardant is dropped onto fire fuels, it dries, and becomes a new line that can help stop the advance of a fire.

"After two or three days in sunlight, the pigment starts to fade away to a whitish opaque color," he explained.

A variety of helicopters haul between 200 and 2,600 gallons of retardant per trip, depending on the size of the helicopter and landscape of the drop site.

"We'll mix on demand at a level, we'll keep a constant mix supply at a level designated between us and the forest service," Hart said.

Nearly 800 fire personnel are working on the Lolo Creek Complex.

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