Senators John McCain and Diane Feinstein announce bill to add to the forest fighting air tanker capability. Congratulation to the two senators for the step in the right direction, however there is a different proposal which I have been making since it won an award in CA more than a 15 years ago. Operation Wildefire suggests a totally different approach that would utilize a much larger number of aircraft already retrofitted for fighting fires and would not require the millions in expense to modify the 7 Coast Guard C-130 air tankers as proposed in the Feinstein/Mc Cain plan. http://www.abigon.com/operation_wildefire.htmlOperation Wildefire had, over the years, been presented to at least 8 major newspapers during severe forest fire seasons in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, CA. in hopes the news source would present the concept and the public would have had an opportunity to evaluate their “common sense” option. Forestry in June of this year saw merit in the proposal and aided the author in making a presentation to the 17 Governors of the WGA. (Western Governor’s Association). Here is Operation Wildefire. Feel free to comment.
An Open Letter to the Governors of the WGA
June 26, 2013
Presenting, Operation Wildefire,
A PROPOSED, MULTI-STATE AIR NATIONAL GUARD, C-130 AIR-TANKER, FOREST FIGHTING TASK FORCE
A new fire-fighting concept, Operation Wildefire, having received an award from the California Resource Board’s Forum for Public Policy more than a decade agowas presented to Major General Frank Scoggins (since retired) of the Washington State, Air National Guard. Upon reviewing the concept, General Scoggins extended an invitation to the author to come to Fort Murray in Tacoma WA, to further discuss and evaluate the possibilities of implementing such a proposal. Following the meeting, it was suggested that the plan also be presented to the Major Generals of several western states for comment, which with the General’s help was facilitated.
While millions of acres of our valuable forestlands are destroyed yearly by fire, it seems we are forced to accept what may be an antiquatedfire containment protocol and an example, of a “too little too late” policy.We have had to accept the current process as normal, but with all due respect, without an all out, “first strike” air tanker capability, the current process may in fact be anything but normal. Operation Wildefire may therefore, be one concept, borne out of necessity.
It may be argued, the current approach, consisting of helicopter and minimal retardant and water dropping fixed wing aircraft often surrenders valuable time of containment in which a fire gains commanding and unrelenting control. Is it not here, at the outbreak, (particularly in those states with the least amount of resources) that critical time and advantage is so often lost?
Many believe, at this early point of containment, too few aircraft are organized and engaged in water and retardant drops. The situation is compounded when the limited number of aircraft is forced to depart the fire scene for refueling or reloading. Is it not here at this early critical stage where common sense would dictate an all out effort be deployed? An effort with adequate resource activated and involved to seize the advantage? Can we as a nation continue to abide the utter destruction of millions of acres of oxygen emitting forestland and the subsequent pollution, loss of timber, private property, human and wild life? There remains as well, the potential threat from those who would engage in a “destruction by fire” scenario. We are as a nation vulnerable to this possibility and perhaps more than ever before. The intent of this proposal is not to diminish the efforts of dedicated men and women of forestry who literally and heroically put their lives on the line year in and year out. Their task is becoming overwhelming and the object here is to seek a solution involving their continued contribution in conjunction with an earlier response from the military. Continuing to lose millions of acres of valuable forestland is not an option.
THE PROPOSED SOLUTION
A MULTI-STATE JOINT AIRBORNE C-130 AIRCRAFT TASK FORCE
There is an adequate number of modified retrofitted tanker aircraft positioned on tarmacs of the Air National Guard units in several western states. It is suggested that certain of these units be mobilized and assigned to perform as part of a combined multi-state, airborne task force of 8-16 aircraft (to be determined by the National Interagency Aviation Coordinators with crews prepared to engage a fire or multiple fires in one or more states–not unlike the way they would approach a routine bombing mission in time of war. This task force would not require a governor’s implementation of a state of emergency, but perhaps activated at PL3 in coordination with the NASF Fire Director stationed at the National Interagency Fire Center (to be determined). The Guard aircraft could depart from neighboring states to rendezvous with other units arriving at most fires within 2-3 hours. Or a second possibility (suggested by the General) of having a contingency of tankers and crews from the various states “lent” to the project and positioned at a central, strategic location if only during fire season. A task force at the ready that could be sent to any fire breakout spot in any state and is on target in a matter of hours. Isn’t it here at the outset, where so often thousands and thousands of acres of valuable timberland could in all likelihood, have been saved if enough air response had been organized and made available earlier? The task force could even be comprised of two air tanker squadrons, one from the military and another consisting of civilian air tankers. As the General had suggested, this advantage could also be taken to any state in the US within hours.
ANNUAL MEETING OF THE C 130’S
The concept was also “brainstormed” with fellow C-130 commanders and crews at an annual meeting at Scotts Air Force Base in Missouri. The support for the concept was (according to the General) very encouraging with the following explanation. The Guard’s involvement with such a project could not conflict with existing regulatory state and federal laws and certainly those governing private industry in regard to the extent of military involvement. It was explained, the Guard serves at the invitation of the governor, state forestry and government. It would appear from the preliminary discussions among the C 130 crews from the various western states represented at the annual meeting, that if they were asked by forestry to perform more of an initial role in concert with the private sector and funding were made available, they would be agreeable to opening dialogue with the governing agencies as to how they might be helpful in providing even more tanker support and at an earlier point in the process.
Very often jurisdictional boundaries and territorial limitations create bureaucratic “road-blocks” when it would seem that neutralizing the fire in the quickest possible time should be the mandated objective.
Perhaps this task force would be recognized as a viable asset at both the federal and state governmental levels and given a degree of autonomy by legislative action to work with the appropriate agencies to accomplish the objective across jurisdictional lines. In all candor, what protection is there in place today to guarantee that the same states that have sustained recent untold fire damage will not face the same catastrophic situation again this year or next? Are states destined to sit and wait for the inevitable to occur year in and year out relying on the same tried and failed approach to fire containment? The logistics of implementing this proposal would be cost effective from several areas. To begin with, the aircraft have already been paid for with tax payer dollars and the cost of maintenance of the aircraft and equipment already budgeted. The salaries of the personnel are also paid, so this might not be an unreasonable proposition to implement, particularly when one considers the cost of the current alternative. The Waldo Canyon fire last year in CO, reportedly cost 453.7 M but does not include the actual cost of fighting the fires, what will be the cost again this year for the state’s fires? Many of us can still remember the devastating Oakland Hills fire years ago cost CA insurers $1.5 B in property damage? At today’s dollar value it would the cost would have been 2.5 B. A reasonable question we might ask, if this common sense concept were in place today, might it have already made a difference in containing this year’s California and Colorado’s fires and at a much earlier time to containment?
There is no doubt fires will continue as a natural occurrence but exploring newer concepts that would offer creative solutions to earlier containment would seem to be a prudent effort. Ideally, if this proposal were accepted in principle by the WGA with details to be addressed over the coming year by the appropriate agencies, a pilot program could be in place and functional by next fire season. The combined effort may well provide a viable solution to a very complex and costly problem.
2012 Federal Cost of Fire Suppression Only
Total Federal Cost (suppression costs) $1,902,446,000
Total number of fires 67,774
Acres burned, 9,326,238