Secretary of Agriculture explains why very large air tankers are not being used on Colorado fires

A reporter for 9news.com in Colorado, in the video below, asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who supervises the U.S. Forest Service, why the very large air tankers like the two DC-10s or the 747 have not been used on fires in Colorado. His answers revolved around “every fire is different” and “it’s complicated”.

Thanks go out to Trish and Rick.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

10 thoughts on “Secretary of Agriculture explains why very large air tankers are not being used on Colorado fires”

  1. This reconfirms my thoughts about our wonderful politicians ….. Just plain stupid with no common sense!!!

  2. What a crock. In the meantime, my ancestral home area is burning in the Squirrel Creeek Fire with one cousin evacuated, and others waiting. I really think they just want it all to burn. Not only are they putting the lives and property of residents at risk, they are putting fire fighter lives at risk. I have a 2nd cousin fighting the Little Sand Fire. Boy this makes me angry.

  3. “Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and Montana”, also New Mexico and, of course, California. What do all these states have in common? They’re *not* RMA. And, *none* of them are in regions currently at PL5.

    It makes me wonder if the RMA CG or MAC really have a different agenda than other regions re. air assets? Sure, feet-dragging at the national level has been the norm, but why the disparity between geograhic regions? Density-altitude?

    (Let’s not forget that Secretary Vilsack is a presidential appointee (heck, he was even a candidate briefly), and it IS campaign season. His appointment was undoubtedly a party favor. He is going to be ineffective by design this summer.)

  4. If this is a top level Federal Director of an Agency and he really believes the stuff he is saying (or written for him) he should fire his staff (like that really happens) and then talk with a three years of fire experience wildland fire fighter, GS-3, on what is required to stop these fires, before……….. It is very complicated!

  5. The large airtanker program is a longstanding joke (we’re still waiting for the punchline), but in the case of the VLAT concept, some perspective needs to be introduced:
    The DC-10 is a good airtanker. The 747 is a poor airtanker. This has nothing to do with the airplanes, but entirely with the method of dispensing retardant. Any airplane with a gravity tank will outperform one with a pressurised tank.
    802s, DC6/7, S2, P2, CV580, Q400, P3 Orion, L-188 Electra, DC-10…they are all decent airtankers in that they can deliver a reliable and consistent drop pattern (the piston planes are getting long in the tooth admittedly and they rightfully need to be replaced by turbine aircraft).
    C-130 MAFFS, 747 Supertanker and the Neptune BAe 146 are all fine airplanes delivering a substandard product pattern on the ground.
    But getting back to the point: it seems that the powers that be have not figured out that the VLAT airplanes (DC-10s) are just the same as the regular airtankers. Sure, they require a bit more space on the ground and not every fire is suitable for their use. But the so-called experts are making things so much more difficult than they need to be. VLAT-qualified leadplanes???? What is that nonsense? Have the laws of aerodynamics somehow changed so that they affect a SEAT differently than a VLAT? Of course not. The overwhelming burden of process has turned a once-great firefighting organization into a runner-up behind those in other countries (Australia, Canada, Spain – none of which are perfect but each outperforms us today).
    So….aircraft managers: offer longterm contracts to the DC-10 operator. Using both airplanes, we can get almost 24,000 gallons of retardant capacity in the air and if used properly, make a significant contribution towards fire management objectives. Stand tall and explain why you made the decision. And if you don’t endorse the 747 for some reason, stand taller and explain why it’s not being employed instead of being forced to respond to their own press releases that tap into human emotion by capitalizing on high-profile events (Colorado Springs). Don’t sit there and say (arrogantly) that “it’s complicated” because we all know it isn’t. Most of the general public are not idiots. Your message may not be popular, but it will be respected.

  6. The USFS wants fire back into the forest.

    What tools does the USFS have to accomplish this goal? Prescription burning?…potential career killer if it gets away and a whole lot of planning and luck with the weather. Logging and slash burning?…lawyered biologists are adept at blocking this one with some cute furry or feathery critter that apparently needs protecting from the evil USFS.

    Allowing natural fires in remote areas to burn on their own?…yes but potential career killer if it gets away that not enough was done in putting it out.

    Extensive backburning well beyond what is necessary in controlling the fire?… they kinda do this one already but lawsuits are pending…people are catching on.

    An air tanker program that is effective in suppressing fires is counter to the USFS stated goal. Having a few air tankers to cover your butt when fires approach urban areas is prudent….but aren’t helicopters good for that? There we go…more helicopters and fewer initial attack planes.

    So lets just let the air tanker program stagnate. The ones we do have lets utilize them on project fires as a mainstay instead of keeping them ready to launch for initial attack dispatches. Make sure we don’t have enough to cover all the regions that need covering…since they are planes and fly very fast that is a good excuse of needing fewer than before. Jets are faster than prop planes?…less planes, look how much money we are saving, pay raises for everyone.

    Yes and we need to study the issue for a few decades.

    If anything goes wrong, we did everything we could with the resources Congress has given us. Culpable deniability and layers of bureaucratic incompetence to slow it all down.

    We need to hire some more PR people to tell everyone what a good job we are doing and how hard we are trying. Maybe some TV and radio ads.

    Yes, it is all so complicated.

  7. Mr. John Van Allen has hit the “nail-on-the-head. Good work. Who would have thought that the protection of our natural resources would come to this? Election year, appointed positions, press, of all things the public outcry, maybe we can turn this course 180 degrees. My company does private land owner burning, on my terms, not mother natures. That is the difference.

  8. Since the mid 1970’s, the USFS brought on every type of “Ologist” known to man (and Woman). Slowly but steadily, things ground to a halt with whatever discipline-specific roadblock could be thrown in the way of getting work on the ground done. My memories of when I started are of very few full-time people on a District (Chuchupate & Santa Barbara on the Los Padres). In not too many years, the offices were splitting at the seams and no one really knew what all of these folks were supposedly doing. Regardless, many of us were in the field every day, building trails, cutting fuelbreaks, erosion control, you name it.
    I’ve been retired now for 6 years and own property that adjoins National Forest land in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. I spend alot of time on these lands, yet I VERY seldom see an FS vehicle or crew out working. Everyone is tied to a computer. I understand that it is a part of how things get done nowadays, but I truly believe it is used as a crutch to “hang out” where it’s warm in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. The outfit has become totally ineffective and is populated with Enviro’s with square eyes the size of their PC screens.jw

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