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  • Red Tape Exacerbates Wildfire Trouble

    Fighting wildfires on federal land involves navigating a maze of regulations and differences in government agency approval, according to a Washington Times report.

    The decision of whether to drop hundreds of gallons of water—or other fire mitigation substances—on a raging wildfire could come down to which federal agency manages the land where the fire is burning and whether the necessary legal permissions for fire mitigation have been secured.

    One might need to keep the GPS handy.

    That question faced a Washoe County, Nevada, pilot who could not ascertain precisely whether the area burning was maintained under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service:

    “We’re approved for fighting fires on [Bureau of Land Management] lands and Washoe County private lands. However, we are not yet approved for dropping water on Forest Service land fires,” said Deputy Doug Russell, chief pilot for Washoe County’s Sheriff’s Office. “Because we didn’t know the exact jurisdiction of property at that moment, we did not drop water.”

    The problem is the helicopter is credentialed by one federal agency — the Bureau of Land Management — but has yet to get the OK from the Forest Service.

    Adding to Russell’s consternation is the knowledge that while the same unit recommended approval of the firefighting HH-1H Huey helicopter for both the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, only BLM approval has been given. Both agencies share the same aircraft standards. The recommendation for Forest Service approval was made in May.

    For its part, the Forest Service pointed to a lack of an operational agreement between the agency and Washoe County.

    “Washoe County has never initiated the formal process to get a cooperating agreement in place with the Forest Service, and without an agreement between the Forest Service and Washoe County, the Raven helicopter cannot operate on national forest,” said a Forest Service spokeswoman.

    Washoe County officials countered that claim, contending that they began the approval process more than 18 months earlier.

    But even the BLM approval came after a two-year approval process that included requirements for upgrades to the helicopter.

    While the chopper does meet BLM approbation, it is not approved for extended firefighting action on federal lands. After helping at the beginning of a wildfire, federal law requires agencies to “try to steer firefighting to commercial aircraft.”

    Forest Service contract cancellations, however, have made that transition more difficult.

    After ending a 50-year relationship with firefighting aircraft provided Aero Union, the Forest Service has reduced the number of large tankers to less than 10.

    The agency ended the contract in 2011, in the middle of the wildfire season, citing “inadequate safety practices.” But new information calls into question the Forest Service’s allegations that Aero Union’s practices, much less its firefighting equipment, suffered from serious physical or procedural defects warranting the contract’s termination, and further depleting an already small firefighting fleet.

    Posted in Featured, Ongoing Priorities, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Red Tape Exacerbates Wildfire Trouble

    1. John Anderson says:

      This is really all you need read about the big airplane scene:

      Goes hand in glove w/your piece. More evil still is John Nance's novel, "Fire Flight."

      Then, there is "Smokey the Businessman" over at Slate.

    2. Bobbie says:

      This is just unacceptable and inhumane. If there was any concern for the damage and lives, there wouldn't be red tape! This is the epitome of the actual morality people with government control consist of. FAKE TO NONE!

    3. Anne Willey says:

      Once again, the bloat in the federal government and its misguided priorities (job protection, CYA, influence of environmental lobbyists and groups) has hurt the citizens of this country.
      My 81 year old mother had to evacuate her residence in the Waldo Canyon fire this summer as the fire failed to be managed quickly and efficiently due to delays in federal bureaucracy, and could have had the consequences of Katrina and floods of '11 here in the Mississippi valley.
      It is time to scale down the ridiculous bureaucracy and increase protection and safety services for the CITIZENS.

    4. @GOPFUNTIME says:

      We need to gut more federal firefighting organizations and force all firefighting ops to the county level like in Mississippi- the crown jewel of the nation.

    5. James says:

      Wonder how many Lizzards, spotted owls and endangered species went up in smoke?
      It just makes a person Wonder !!! Life changing situation for folks to. Any one know
      where their champions are ?

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