How effective are planes in fighting wildfires? © Getty Images

How effective are planes in fighting wildfires?

Aerial firefighters use helicopters and aeroplanes to drop fire-retardants or water on forest fires.

Asked by: Rosalind Patterson, USA

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The US Forest Service has commercial contracts for a fleet of 300 helicopters and more than 50 fixed-wing aeroplanes, which dump 40 million litres of fire-retardant sludge onto forest fires each year. But surprisingly there isn’t very good evidence that it works. A 2011 study found no correlation between the use of fire retardant and fire-fighting success rates. Once a wildfire is raging, airdrops seem to be more about public relations than effective firefighting.


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