Castle Airport is now a staging area for the Rim Fire

ATWATER, California

Merced County and the U.S. Forest service have started a five year deal that allows fire fighters to use the airport when it needs to.

Fire fighters didn't hesitate to make use of the agreement. On Tuesday afternoon, it began flying DC-10s out of Castle's runways.

DC-10s are massive airplanes, weighing 368,000 pounds and are fitted with 95,000 pounds of fire retardant and water that is dropped on the wildfire, according to Dave Campodonico, the tanker base manager with the U.S. Forest Service.

"It's to knock the heat out of the fire so crews can put up fire lines to control the fire," Campodnoico said.

Castle Airport's runways are nearly 12,000 feet long, making it well equipped to handle the massive planes during take-off and landing.

Mark Hendrickson with Merced County says they have long been negotiating with state and federal officials to get an airport use agreement in place. The Rim Fire helped expedite the negotiations, which he says is a win-win for all parties involved.

"The agreement that was struck gives them ability to leverage this facility to its fullest extent so they do what they do best, which is to ensure public safety," Hendrickson said.

There are only a few airports in the state that can accommodate DC-10s, and Castle Airport is one of them. There are two DC-10s stationed at the Castle Airport.

They can drop up to 12,000 gallons of water in less than 10 seconds said Rick Hatton of the 10 Tanker Air Carrier, a company that contracts with the U.S. Forest Service.

The planes were used in battling several fires around the country this year including the Beaver Creek Fire in Idaho and the Palm Springs Fire in Southern California.

"Our Crews are very proficient, we train a lot and this year we've gotten a lot of action," Hatton said. "Unfortunately we've gotten lot of big fires."

Only the DC-10s are flying out of Castle Airport. Other planes like the C-130s are being flown from other airports in the surrounding areas.

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