The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CalFire, recently suffered a $34 million budget cut due to the severe financial crisis affecting the state. Some of the effects of the cuts include:
- 730 fewer seasonal firefighters
- Reducing the staffing on engines from four to three
- Cancellation of the exclusive use contract for the DC-10 air tanker
CalFire said they will still have the same number of operational engines statewide, just with 25 percent fewer firefighters on each one. The agency will have 3,300 full-time firefighters and 2,300 seasonals this fire season.
On June 30 CalFire cancelled the last year of the 3-year exclusive use contract for the DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker which carries about four times more retardant than conventional Large Air Tankers — 11,600 gallons compared to 3,000 for the “Large” air tankers. A spokesperson for CalFire said cutting the DC-10 will save the agency $7 million. CalFire intends to put both DC-10s on Call When Needed (CWN) contracts. However, if they later decide to hire the aircraft on a CWN contract during a major fire bust, it will cost substantially more per hour than if it were on a long term availability contract.
The operator of the DC-10, 10 Tanker Air Carrier, has two DC-10s that have been converted to drop fire retardant, but as of this date, they have no exclusive use contracts for either of them. The U. S. Forest Service is not interested in exclusive use contracts for any Very Large Air Tankers and has refused to issue them to 10 Tanker Air Carrier, or to Evergreen for their 747 “Supertanker”. They offered Evergreen an opportunity to bid on a CWN contract, but the company turned it down because they can’t afford to have a very expensive single-purpose aircraft sitting around unused for most of the year. If 10 Tanker is left with only CWN contracts for their two DC-10s, they will have difficulty justifying keeping them sitting around as well.
It is conceivable that all three Very Large Air Tankers could be scrapped this year, or at least put into long-term storage.
The U. S. Forest Service, after reducing the fleet of large air tankers from 44 in 2002 to 19 this year due to crashes of two of the 40 to 60 year old aircraft, still has not released a plan for replacing the aging fleet of large air tankers. Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, said recently that a new report about their replacement strategy, at least the third similar report since 2002, would not be completed until August.
The CalFire Air Tanker Base at Victorville, the home of the DC-10 air tankers, is being shut down. Here is the text of an email sent by the Chief of CalFire’s San Bernardino Unit on June 30, 2011 to employees of the Unit:
From: McClelland, Tim
Sent: Thursday, June 30, 2011 19:50
To: BDU; BDU Chief Officers; BDU Fire Stations; BDU Camps
Subject: Victorville Air Tanker Base
The department received direction late today that the Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) contract with 10 Tanker Corporation will not be funded for the new fiscal year that begins at midnight tonight.
As a result of a lack of funding, the Unit was directed to un-staff the Victorville Air Tanker Base operation effective immediately. The on duty CAL FIRE employees were notified this evening that they are to begin the process of removing all state equipment and property from the facility.
With support from CSR Executive, all assigned CAL FIRE employees will be retained within BDU and re-assigned within the Unit. Chief Feldman will be working with the Field assigned BC’s to determine work locations for those employees currently assigned to the Victorville ATB operation.
Please understand that this change is due to the very challenging fiscal environment the State of California is currently experiencing and not as a result of any philosophical change in position as it relates to the viability of the VLAT program. Thank you for your continued patience and professionalism as the Department works through this process.
Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino Unit