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Slurry Bombers: Tools in the war against wildfire

Each summer as forest fires rage throughout the West, wildland firefighters use many tools including slurry bombers to help douse the flames.

Slurry Bombers: Tools in the war against wildfire

Each summer as forest fires rage throughout the West, wildland firefighters use many tools including slurry bombers to help douse the flames. You’ve probably seen news footage of airplanes showering bright red substances onto blazing forests below. This substance is slurry, a fire retardant made up of water and fertilizer.

According to an article in Time magazine, “the coating clings to vegetation and insulates it from the approaching inferno; the fertilizer helps the damaged areas regrow in the wake of the blaze.”


The Forest Service has used slurry and other fire retardants since the 1950s, according to an article in the Denver Post. These chemicals don’t douse flames like water does, according to the article. Instead, fire retardants deplete fire of oxygen.
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Slurry is dyed bright red for visibility, helping pilots to drop a seamless line of the solution to box in a fire. One advantage of slurry is that unlike water, it doesn’t evaporate, according to the Time magazine article. After dropping slurry, bulldozers and ground crews will move in to cut a firebreak or area free of vegetation, designed to halt advancing flames.

Slurry might not appear particularly earth friendly, and some question its toxicity. Federal rules help address these concerns by prohibiting the dumping of slurry close to waterways. Tanker pilots and crew commanders carry maps that identify environmentally sensitive terrain, and planes will drop plain water instead of slurry in these areas. The Forest Service also advises people not to let their pets swallow the slurry.When wildfires rage through the forests, wildland firefighters use every tool at their disposal to help contain them. Many fires burn in remote areas, and using slurry bombers first can slow a fire’s spread until ground crews can reach the area.

Slurry bombers are just one tool in the arsenal used to battle forest fires. Every year, wildland firefighters risk their lives to save the lives and homes of those in fire’s path. Coors Banquet continues its support of wildland firefighters through the Protect Our West campaign. This campaign donates funds from each Coors purchase to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, an organization that supports firefighters and their families.

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Carolyn Sostrom is a long-time Arizona resident who loves desert sunsets, warm weather and zumba. As a writer, she’s covered technology, medical and travel topics.

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