President signs law to expedite Forest Service acquisition of at least seven next-generation large air tankers
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Although federal officials have been trumpeting dire warnings about the fire season for several months, they seem to be scrambling at the last minute to marshal firefighting resources.
This week, the the Forest Service said it mobilized eight additional aircraft to ensure that an adequate number of airtankers are available for wildland firefighting efforts. With these additional airtankers, the Forest Service has 16 large airtankers and one very large airtanker available immediately for wildfire suppression. The Forest Service has the capability to mobilize an additional 11 large airtankers, should circumstances require it.
Additionally, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior fire agencies can mobilize hundreds of helicopters and dozens of smaller aircraft, called “single-engine airtankers.”
And a new law signed Wednesday by President Obama authorizes the Forest Service to expedite its acquisition of at least seven next-generation large air tankers. Senate Bill 3261, passed the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives last week. The president’s signature comes as the U.S. Forest Service this week contracted for additional air tankers and heavy helicopters to use immediately in the current efforts against fires across the West.
“I am pleased that the President has acted so quickly after I urged him to quickly sign this bill. I also want to thank USFS Chief Tidwell for mobilizing more aircraft and heavy helicopters to immediately reinforce its firefighting efforts across the West,” said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) “This legislation underlines our commitment to getting the U.S. Forest Service the resources it needs to save lives. The High Park Fire is a reminder of exactly why we need air tankers to aid in the attack of large wildfires.”
As of Wednesday, 19 active large fires are burning in nine states, including one of the largest wildfires in New Mexico history and one of the largest wildfires on record in Colorado.
On the financial side, FEMA has provided Fire Management Assistance Grants to states with active large fires. These grants help cover eligible costs, on a 75 percent cost-share basis, and can reimburse state and local costs associated with personnel and equipment used to combat fires.
FEMA also authorized the use of federal funds, through the Fire Management Assistance Grant Program, to help with eligible firefighting costs for the High Park Fire in Larimer County, Colorado and the Little Bear Fire located in Lincoln County, New Mexico.
While extremely serious fires are burning in several states, to date the season has been below average, meaning that additional resources remain available should they be necessary.
“We continue to support our state, local, and tribal partners as they work to contain and suppress the wildfires burning in the West,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Our fire managers are bringing extensive resources to bear to respond vigorously to those wildfires threatening lives, communities, and cultural and natural resources, and we stand ready to provide additional eligible resources as necessary.”
“We’re bringing the full range of our federal, tribal, state, local and non-governmental resources together to manage these wildland fires and reduce risk to communities,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “We remain vigilant and continue to do all we can to ensure the safety of all firefighters in this challenging wildlife season.”
Federal land managers are also helping communities prepare for wildfire. Federal partnerships with tribal, state, and local agencies strengthen preparedness programs, such as Firewise http://www.firewise.org/ and Ready Set Go! http://www.iafc.org/readySetGo that help families and communities prepare for and survive wildfire. You can also visit FEMA’s Ready.gov http://www.ready.gov, to learn more about steps you and your family can take now to be prepared for an emergency.
- Colorado: Sen. Udall says Forest Service may not have enough air tankers to fight large or multiple wildfires (summitcountyvoice.com)
- U.S. Wildfires well below average for year to-date (summitcountyvoice.com)
- Obama Signs Bill Pushed By Udall To Buy More Air Tankers (denver.cbslocal.com)
- Colorado could be facing severe wildfire season (summitcountyvoice.com)