Dumb Question about Saltwater

Uh, why can’t we put out those Florida wildfires with saltwater? I’ve seen the videos on The Discovery Channel-- these firefighting planes fly really low over a lake and scoop up water into a tank and then fly over the fire and dump the water.

Except Florida’s lakes are drying up. But the ocean is right nearby.

Seriously, would dumping all that saltwater onto the ground poison the soil in some way? Would it destroy the plants on the ground? I would think that all that salt would be a welcome nutrient and the soil would be that much healthier for it, but then again I didn’t major in agriculture…

Carthage comes to mind…

The everglades and surrounding areas are fresh or brackish water. Large quantities of salt water would do beaucou damage.

The answer to your last two questions are yes and yes. Plants do not like a lot of salt in their soil. To test this out, take a bucket of water and dissolve about 6 tbs of salt in it. Dump it on your lawn. Come back in two weeks. You will see a nice, new area of dead yellow grass where once you had a healthy lawn.

Salt water mixed into the fresh water lakes and streams would also kill most of the fresh water fish living there. Fresh water fish cannot live in salt water (and vice versa).

Finally, there’s the logistics of flying all the way out to the sea and back just to dump water. It may look close, but it’s far enough away that a fully loaded plane would have a problem making the trip.

A couple other points:

  1. Waves. Oceans have them, lakes don’t. Increases the difficulty of loading up a plane much trickier. Even choppers with buckets would have trouble.
  2. Salt water is corrosive. It would get into everything and damage the plane.
  3. Hi Opal. (<-My first time!)

Water bombers DO use ocean water from time to time to dose fires; small ones anyways. In the summer of '98 I was living in an apartment complex in Nanaimo, BC and there was a decent-sized brush fire raging right behind use. There were two helicopters filling their buckets up from a nearby pond, and a big Mars water bomber did three passes right overtop of me (I have the video tape to prove it). Friends who saw the plane picking up water said it was skimming from the sea, less than a mile away. There were no lakes big enough for the plane to pick up freshwater nearby.

Yes, salt water is bad for plants, but I should also point out that so is fire!! The torched plants were dead anyway, and it rains a lot in that area through the winter. On top of this they add some chemical to the water I’m told, and when it fell on the parking lot was all foamy, like from a carwash. Next summer the same area was green as could be, so the salt water didn’t kill the plants or poison the ground that much at all.
I imagine that they needed water fast since the fire was close to houses and people. If you just have a big wild brush fire and noone’s going to get cooked, then you have the luxury of looking for a more environmentally friendly way to fight it.
Finally, lakes can and do have waves (just wait for some wind), and the ocean can be flat as glass; you know that if you’ve ever been around either. Plans are washed down when they’re dirty, and have mucho maintenance done on them - especially water bombers or aircraft that tend to fly in dirty dangerous conditions. Planes fly over and land in the sea all the time (ever ride in a float plane?), and they don’t fall apart when they get a bit of sea spray. You just clean 'em up.

Ever heard of salting the earth?

Possible Urban Legend approaching. There was a story about a body in a wet suit found in the ashes of a fire in southern California. The explanation was that he had been skimmed up out of the ocean by one of those planes and then dumped on to the fire. I cannot remember where I read this or if it was debunked. It was within the last five years. Whether true or not, it makes a good story.

That is definitely a UL.


It’s also a plot device in the opening of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia.