The U. S. Forest Service has missed another deadline to produce a report about how to deal with the severe shortage of large air tankers. A strategy to replace the dozens of air tankers that were permanently grounded after two very old military surplus air tankers fell apart in mid-air in 2002 should have been developed no later than 2004. Since then, missing promised reports combined with analysis paralysis have resulted in the large air tanker fleet being reduced to 11 on July 29, compared to 44 in 2002. The USFS keeps saying that they have plenty, but in the last couple of weeks they brought on additional air tankers, including three Convair 580s and three CL-215 scooper air tankers,
bringing the total to 17 medium and large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. Correction. “JR” tells us that the CL-215s are working on a Call When Needed contract day by day, so they could disappear any time.
The Riverside, California Press-Enterprise follows wildfire very closely and on Saturday published an article detailing the USFS’ multiple failures to produce the reports about how to reconstitute the large air tanker fleet. Here is an excerpt from the article written by Ben Goad:
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Forest Service has again missed its deadline to complete studies needed to shape the agency’s future aerial firefighting strategy, igniting concern from a California lawmaker as wildfire season intensifies across the Inland area.
The Forest Service’s director of fire and aviation, Tom Harbour, acknowledged Friday that some of the review work initially scheduled to be complete in January won’t be finished until next year. Harbour attributed the delays to the complexity and high stakes — both in terms of cost and human lives — involved with modernizing the federal aerial firefighting fleet and accompanying policies.
He stressed that plenty of resources are on hand to battle flames in Inland Southern California, where several blazes have ignited in recent days, including a wildfire Friday in the Cajon Pass that shut down Interstate 15.
“This fall in SoCal, we’ve got more than enough stuff to cover the fire needs,” Harbour said.
For example, he said, three CL 215 firefighting planes known as “Scoopers,” able to drop hundreds of gallons of water at a time on flames in remote areas, were brought to the San Bernardino National Forest during a recent blaze.
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who first raised concerns about the delays in February, said she remains unsatisfied with the agency’s progress and said she plans to seek answers from Harbour’s boss.
“Fire season has begun in California, and millions of acres are at high risk of wildfire,” said Feinstein, D-Calif. “I intend to meet with Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell to understand why they have again failed to meet this deadline and enact a strategy to protect Californians from wildfires in the coming years.”
Thanks go out to Dick