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How ef­fec­tive are planes in fight­ing wild­fires, does suck­ing your thumb re­ally ruin your teeth, can com­puter gen­er­ate a truly ran­dom num­ber, what is dark en­ergy...

The US For­est Ser­vice has com­mer­cial con­tracts for a fleet of 300 he­li­copters and more than 50 fixed-wing aero­planes, which dump 40 mil­lion litres of fire-re­tar­dant sludge onto for­est fires each year. But sur­pris­ingly there isn’t very good ev­i­dence that it works. A 2011 study found no cor­re­la­tion be­tween the use of fire re­tar­dant and fire­fight­ing suc­cess rates. Once a wild­fire is rag­ing, air­drops seem to be more about pub­lic re­la­tions than ef­fec­tive fire­fight­ing. LV

Fire re­tar­dant is dropped near Clear­lake, Cal­i­for­nia, dur­ing the wild­fires of Au­gust 2015

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