18. November 2005 · Comments Off on While California Burns, Again… · Categories: General, Politics

…Over at OSM they are linking to a reprint of David Burger’s Arson by Omission: Was the US Forest Service Fiddling While Ventura County Burned? (6 pages PDF): This simply did not get enough play in the mainstream media last year. And, as such, there simply hasn’t been enough political pressure, outside the beltway, to force any reform:

Anderson suggests one answer. In June 2002, the on-line magazine Slate published an article by Douglas Gantenbein entitled “Smokey the Businessman.” Gantenbein wrote, “In the past 10 years, wild-land firefighting has transformed from a federal government responsibility to a massive, extremely lucrative, private enterprise…. The real bucks are in private contracting.” Gantenbein made the argument, which Anderson echoes, that there is a sort of “good ol’ boys” network through which the government protects the status quo. This status quo includes private aircraft, private companies that outfit fire camps for fire crews, even private vendors who supply thousands of gallons of bottled water.

This story is a must-read, particularly for those of us here in the fire-prone West. Most of Burger’s article has to do with the 11,000 gallon Ilyushin IL-76. There are also the venerable Martin Mars seaplanes of Canada’s Flying Tankers Inc.. They are substantially smaller than the Ilyushins, at 7,200 gallons. That’s twice the capacity of the C-130A Hercules fire tankers, which make up the backbone of our fleet. But they only have two of them. There’s also the Evergreen Boeing 747, which has over twice the capacity of the Ilyushins (that got lots of press last year). But it has yet to get FAA approval. Russia has six IL-76s available at a moment’s notice.

But the USFS, NPS and BLM’s record of ineptitude is much broader than just fire management, and goes back much farther than that which is covered here. I also highly recommend reading Alston Chase’s Playing God in Yellowstone: The Destruction of America’s First National Park and In a Dark Wood: The Fight over Forests & the Myths of Nature.

Update: I almost forgot the 12,000 gallon 10 Tanker STC Douglas DC-10-10 that made such a splash in Paris this year. I don’t believe that’s passed FAA certification yet either. As well, the C-130As and the old Consolidated PB4Y-2s have been grounded for metal fatigue problems. That leaves us with only seven Lockheed P-3 Orions, two older Lockheed P-2V Neptunes, a Douglas DC-7, and a half-dozen or so Douglas C-54s run by private contractors . Just the lean nature of our fleet makes a strong argument for contracting outside the country.

Comments closed.