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  • U.S. Forest Service Firefighting Fleet Depleted After Contract Cancellation

    An Obama administration decision to cancel a government contract for aerial firefighting planes in 2011 has left the U.S. Forest Service’s airborne fleet depleted as rapidly moving wildfires spread throughout the state of Colorado and elsewhere in the country amid excessive heat and extremely dry weather conditions.

    The reduction in the number of planes—from more than 40 to just 11—ended a 50-year relationship between the Forest Service and Aero Union, which provided the planes, and 60 jobs, fighting fires. The Forest Service cited an airworthiness inspection program as one reason for terminating the contract, despite the company’s insistence that it had passed its annual inspection.

    “Our main priority is protecting and saving lives, and we can’t in good conscience maintain an aviation contract where we feel lives may be put at risk due to inadequate safety practices,” said one Forest Service official.

    A pair of tanker crashes, including one earlier this month, has further reduced the number of immediately available aircraft to just nine.

    Calls for a review of Forest Service planning related to the nation’s aging and inadequate fleet came from four lawmakers in a letter sent in March 2012 by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to the Government Accountability Office.

    Speeding up the agency’s slow-moving long-term strategy process would be necessary should another record-breaking year of wildfires strike in 2012, the Washington Post noted as early as February, but the push to replace the entire fleet of large aircraft has stretched out over at least a decade.

    Air tanker crashes in 2002, including one in Colorado, put pressure on the Forest Service to weed out many dilapidated planes, including converted tankers from the 1940s and 1950s that were showing signs of excessive wear from the demanding stress of fighting fires. Tankers across the country were grounded temporarily as a precaution following the crash.

    The Forest Service’s own estimates call for as many as 18-28 “next generation” large air tankers to meet the nation’s firefighting requirements. As a stopgap, the Forest Service has tapped into preexisting arrangements with the state of Alaska, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, and the military to deploy an additional 16 large air tankers.

    But recent news from the Forest Service announcing plans for seven new firefighting aircraft from contracts awarded to four different firms will not provide immediate relief, as only three tankers will be available this year (but not, perhaps, for several months), and the remaining four will be delivered in 2013.

    Posted in Ongoing Priorities, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to U.S. Forest Service Firefighting Fleet Depleted After Contract Cancellation

    1. KJinAZ says:

      Come on you idiots in Washington get off your rears before our forests burn down. We have already burned hundreds of thousands of acres. It’s time to raid the bone yards down in Tuscon. They have hundreds of planes mothballed down there that would work great. The government already owns them, so we should be able to just transfer them to the forest service. I would think the military could prep and ready the planes for next week. GET IT DONE!

    2. Guest says:

      Thanks Obama and all you green people – our town is burning up and right now 32,000 have been evacuated!!!! Your idiocy is amazeing. Anyone who votes to bring you back has absoluting no knowlege of what you have done to human beings and the United States. Thank goodness for the people in the forest service and the fire fighters for the job they have done despite your stupidity!!

    3. Mike says:

      Funny how people want smaller government and cutting the fat from the budget, or they want to allow private businesses to run things better (for a profit)…until something THEY need is not there isn't it? Ask yourself why the forest service was flying planes that date from before most of you were born? Simple, we passed the buck. Why is some private company providing third rate aircraft (for a first rate price) when we have lots of good military aircraft and great crews who are ready and willing to serve their country and to protect each of us. These military planes sit around doing nothing.

      • Garnz says:

        It's not that simple to just deploy "military aircraft" in support of fire fighting. In fact there are only 4 MAFFS squadrons in the country with a total of 8 MAFFS units. These are Air National Guard Units, not the active duty AF. And I can assure you that we do not 'sit around and do nothing' when we're not fighting fires. In fact, when we're mobilized by the state governor to fight a fire we generally have to cancel many scheduled missions that happen every month. And these call ups won't delay our scheduled deployments to Afghanistan. Plus, we're supposed to be "citizen soldiers" and maintain our civilian jobs. How fondly would you be thought of by your boss if you told him you needed a week or two off every Summer during fire season, but couldn't give him an exact date until about 48 hours beforehand ?

        I completely agree with your assessment of peoples' hypocrisy when talking about smaller government and less taxes until it's time for them to lose some form of a benefit. That annoys me quite a bit. Even my family and other people who I generally think of as smart people fail to understand how much we get from our local, state, and federal governments.

    4. mike says:

      You can blame democrats…you can blame republicans…but you cannot look in the mirror.. We allow our leaders to totally waste BILLIONS of dollars every year, giving it away to foreign governments in an attempt to buy friends. We Spend BIllions on "nation building" while we let our own nation crumble. We give breaks to those that do not need them since they already got a lot of lucky breaks in life (because they pay off their elected officials) and we allow our business leaders to rip us off with "private" contracts for literally thousands of things that ARE really government services, but which we allow "Private businesses" to do for a profit…If a private business can make a buck on such a contract, how about we allow the government to do the same thing for a lot cheaper?

    5. mike says:

      I am sorry for all of you in Colorado Springs right now, I have many family and friends there who I worry about, but this is just a foretaste of what is coming nationally…Our system is broken, our politics are corrupt and dys-functional and our nation is far far beyond bankrupt. Welcome to the third world…. Unless we as a nation collectively choose to wake up and demand that our political class work for us for a change, we might as well all bring some marshmellows and sticks and watch the flames consume everything we love.

    6. Stoneman says:

      Mike: I could not agree with you more on what y0u are saying; however, let me hope I am wrong in the next breath of what you would suggest. Many who want to “correct” our corrupt government also want to invade the last remaining wildlands, turn over the nation’s wealth (oil, gas, timber, coal) to greedy, uncaring corporate exploiters, all in the name of Jobs, progress, jobs,. If we just spent our foreign wasted dollars on building roads, bridges, schools, highways and promoting small business, we might recover. Don’t think so. We are in the Decline and Fall of the American Empire. Send food stamps, declare everyone as dependent, take away the fighting spirit and we have lost America. We are nearly there.


    7. Guest says:

      Is the 747 Super Tanker owned by Evergreen still sitting on the ground in Oregon? Why isn't this aircraft – the most modern in the world – being used?

      • John says:

        The 747 is in Arizona with no contract and I just heard this morning the two Dc10s are sitting in CA.

        The problem with the forest service goes back many years and several administrations. I worked on a few fires that were under federal control while a teenager working for the California (then) Department of Forestry. I remember one fire that had burned down to a stream and need some work cleaning-up the leading edge. The USFS decided to do a backburn (uphill from the steam). The backfire burning up hill raced out of control and burned a thousand or so acres (much more than the original fire).

        We all make mistakes and usually change out behavior after a bad experience the USFS just seems to charge ahead and you better stay out of their way and MAKE NO COMMENTS. I just don't know if they are such a big bureaucracy that new ideals or finding better ways to do the job just get lost along the way or if arrogance is the reason that changes are so slow coming.

        I also have to say that I have meant a lot of good people working for the USFS that really try to do the best they know how (and they are good at their jobs, sometimes exceptional) in fighting fires or just interacting and helping the general public.

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