Losses from wildfires across the United States over the past decade have added up to $5.1 billion.1 In addition to damage typically expected from fires (smoke, soot, ash, water from fire-fighting hoses and extinguisher chemicals), some homeowners may face the additional risk of damage caused by suppression efforts, specifically aviation-based firefighting.

Since 2006, CAL FIRE’s Air Program has utilized converted DC-10 planes as its preferred method of fire suppression. DC-10s can carry almost 12,000 gallons of water (or fire retardant).2 Some public entities use a Boeing 747 aerial firefighter, that can carry 24,000 gallons through a pressurized drop system.3 California started using this plane in 2009 to fight the Oak Glen Fire in San Bernardino County.

The results of aerial firefighting are effective but can be just as dangerous and damaging to structures as the fire itself. While dramatized, the 2017 film “Only the Brave” depicted an airtanker missing its mark and destroying a structure while fighting a forest fire:

When the tankers utilize red fire retardant (the U.S. Forest Service uses a non-toxic product known by the brand name Phos-Chek),4 homeowners are faced with a sticky, but generally cleanable mess. However, when aerial firefighting is used in suburban areas, the damage to homes may be hidden, but is also devasting. The force of the water hitting the home can split rafters and severely damage wood shake roofs, including sheathing and felt. While water intrusion through pipe jacks and roof flashing will show obvious interior damage, structural damage may not be visible to the naked eye and could require structural inspections in hard to reach attic areas. If your property has been the unexpected victim of aerial firefighting, make sure to have these areas inspected while adjusting your claim.
1 https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-wildfires
2 http://www.10tanker.com/general/
3 https://www.popsci.com/military-aviation-amp-space/article/2009-06/firefighting-supertanker-dumps-20500-gallons-water-500-feet#page-6
4 https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/local/2018/08/15/what-makes-up-red-fire-retardant-being-dropped-wildfires/987754002/