North Carolina panel recommends eliminating 20 of 38 wildfire aircraft

A watchdog group of the North Carolina General Assembly, the Program Evaluation Division, has recommended that the Division of Forest Resources eliminate 20 of the 38 aircraft that they use for the management of wildland and prescribed fires. The report also recommends that of the other 34 aircraft owned by the state, that 5 of them be eliminated.

Here are the recommendations about the fire-related aircraft from the 89-page report, which also covers the management of other state-owned aircraft.

Function Currently Eliminate Remaining
Fire Control (3 single-engine fixed wing, and 3 Bell UH1H helicopters) 6 2 4
Fire Patrol (single-engine fixed wing) 18 11 7
Suppression (air tankers, 1 CL215 & 4 SEATs) 5 1 4
Suppression/Rx burn 2 1 1
Transport 3 1 2
Salvage/parts 4 4 0
TOTALS 38 20 18

The Canadair CL215 air tanker has been grounded since 2008 because it needs a 5,000-hour inspection that is expected to cost $1 million. The Forest Resources staff expects that the inspection would reveal repairs that would cost an additional $500,000 to $1,000,000. The agency does not have the money for the inspection and repairs, or a pilot for the aircraft.

The other four air tankers are Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs). Three are Melex M18A’s, and one is a Rockwell S2R.

Dromader M18B SEAT
Melex M18B Dromader

The report says, about the Division of Forest Resources’ aviation program:

According to Division of Forest Resources staff, the division has the second largest aviation fleet for forest protection in the country. However, the state is ninth in acres of forest land and experienced fewer acres of forest fires over the last three years than 16 other states. Other states use their National Guard, private companies, and resources from other states arranged through interstate compacts to fight fires.

The Division of Forest Resources, in an official response to the report, said in part:

Nationally, North Carolina ranked third, fifth, and fourth in 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively, for the most number of wildfires in a state…. The average fire size for the 3-year time period was the third best (meaning smallest) for states that had 3,000 or more fires for each of the three years.

A better measure of efficiency for a wildland fire fighting aviation fleet may be to look at cost per number of fires, cost per average fire size, cost per homes protected, etc.

Senate Majority leader Martin Nesbitt is not convinced that the recommendations in the report should be followed, saying:

Thank God we don’t have forest fires all the time, but it’s kind of like if you did a study of the efficiency of fire trucks you’d find out that they’re terribly inefficient.  They sit in the firehouse most of the time but they are there when you need them.

The Division of Forest Resources has commissioned a separate study of their fire aviation program which should be completed by Conklin and de Decker by August 1, 2010. The Division asks that the General Assembly not make any decisions about reducing their fleet until that second study is complete.

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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.

2 thoughts on “North Carolina panel recommends eliminating 20 of 38 wildfire aircraft”

  1. Bob, while you are indeed correct about maintaining IA capability, believing that the military is the answer is just flat out wrong. The enthusiasm of the military crews is undeniable. However, they never stay in position long enough to become effective, and hence are in a constant state of training the new guys. They require an exceptional amount of babysitting on every fire I have ever worked on, (17 years in the air)(if their equipment doesnt malfunction,) taking valuable ATGS time and effort away from the task at hand. A plethora? Can you say MID-AIR Collision? Why not concentrate on training the people you have to BE effective.
    Cost effective you say? I say BS. It’s NOT free, and is in fact three to four times the cost of available civilian resources. But thats the DoD budget and doesnt show on DA or DI ledgers, then you can go feel all warm and cozy protesting the increasing military budgets with your pal Nancy. (Who has been pissed ever since that house fell on her sister.) In fact it is prohibited by law to utilize military resources BEFORE civilian resources are exhausted. But then again, with all the HOPE & CHANGE we are experiencing, let’s ignore our laws and just do what we want because it’s different and all George Bush’s fault.
    Why should we listen to a CalFire vet when the grabass kids you employ are more concerned with ice cream and benefits than actually doing what they are paid for?

    If you really want cost effectiveness, take ALL fire fighting responsibilty AWAY from, USFS, BLM, NPS, BIA, F&W (did I forget anyone?). Create a national fire agancy whose sole responsibilty is firefighting and create an academy & agency similar to the coast guard. Throw out your silly tasks books and grow a pair of balls. There is no whining in firefighting, did you not get the memo? maybe I’ll send it in triplacate next time. Will this ever happen? Of course not, does anyone think the entreched bureuacrats who make up the majority of these agencies will EVER willingly give up their cash cow?

  2. I am a 35 year employee of CalFire and spent quite a bit of time as a Helitack Officer and later as an Air Tactical Supervisor. Relocated to Western N.C. in 2002. I STRONGLY suggest that you NOT reduce your IA air resources. When you need them … and you WILL ! … You’ll all be sitting on your hands and wondering what happened. You need to research what other states are doing with their National Guard and Army Reserve forces. It seems to me that with the plethoria of military aircraft in this state that SOMEBODY would have linked up with them and initiated a pre-planned response with the appropreate trained personnel to lead them. They cost FAR less than what you may think and they are superbly maintained at no expense to the requesting agency. Think about that instead of listening to some hired firm that’s only mandate is to save money. N.C. is very lucky in that they have not had a critical incident that moves beyond the extended attack stage. And another thing … when in heck are you folks going to come into the modern age and accept and TRAIN ALL your personnel in the ICS ??


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