Video: Passenger Jet Used to Fight Wildfires

Firefighters in Australia have drafted in their biggest tools as they battle fierce wildfires in the state of New South Wales.

A modified Boeing 737 joined the fight on Thursday and Friday, marking the first use of such an aircraft in a desperate effort to beat back the inferno.

According to the BBC, the revamped aircraft can deliver more than 4,000 gallons of water and fire retardant onto the flames. Though not as much as some larger specially-designed fire-fighting planes, the firefighters below will surely have welcomed its assistance.

But officials explained that the passenger jet offers something other large aircraft do not—it can hold up to 63 firefighters at the same time.

The 737—converted into an air tanker by Canadian company Coulson Aviation—was used to drop several loads of water and fire retardant on a large blaze threatening houses in the Port Stephens area, some 90 miles north of Sydney.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has nine other water-bombing aircraft it can use in such situations with capacities as high as around 9,900 gallons. But spokesman Chris Garlick told the BBC the modified aircraft—known as Gaia—offers a "more versatile option" than some of the existing large planes used to battle wildfires.

"It's got all the capacity to drop big loads of water and retardant, but because it was a former passenger plane, we can also carry people in it and across interstate lines," he explained. Garlick noted the service was "stoked" with the 737's performance. Each aircraft of this type costs just over $5 million, ABC News explained.

The 737 Large Air Tanker 'Gaia' has been in action in the Hunter this afternoon - the first time this kind of plane has been used to fight a fire anywhere in the world. It's provided valuable support to firefighters on the ground. #NSWRFS #nswfires #avgeek

— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 22, 2018

Though officials have said the Port Stephens fire is not life-threatening, it has already burned through more than 3,700 acres of land. Only minor structures such as sheds have so far been destroyed, as the flames are helped along by strong winds.

New South Wales' wildfire season generally runs from October until April, so it could be that the 737's flight is the first of many this season.

Modified commercial airliners have been used elsewhere to battle wildfires. In the U.S., for example, firefighters have been using Boeing aircraft to fight back rampant blazes in California.

The world's largest air tanker—a modified Boeing 747 named the Global SuperTanker—has been water-bombing fires in the north of the state around Paradise, the town near-destroyed by this fall's infernos. The aircraft can deliver 18,000 gallons of fire retardant—equivalent to around 16 normal-sized tankers carrying loads of around 1,100 gallons, The Denver Post explained.