4:30pm

Wed June 13, 2012
Wildfires

Udall, Bennet Applaud Signing Of Firefighting Air Tanker Bill

  • KUNC's Nathan Heffel interviews CO Senator Mark Udall about the signing of a bill which will speed up the contracting of new US Forest Service air tankers. The current fleet stands around 17 tankers.

A bill to speed up the contracting of  seven new Forest Service air tankers has become law. President Barack Obama signed the bill Wednesday. While the new planes won't be ready to fight the High Park Fire, Senator Mark Udall says the tankers will modernize the fleet.

Both Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet supported the bill, and have been outspoken about the shrinking air tanker fleet. The bill allows the Forest Service to buy as many as seven tankers outright, without needing a 30 day waiting period.

Udall says he’s pleased the president signed the bill quickly, and thanked Tom Tidwell, the Forest Service Chief, for mobilizing more aircraft to fight the growing western wildfires.

"I continue to closely monitor the High Park Fire to ensure that firefighters on the ground have the resources they need to beat back this blaze.  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."

Fires, Recent Crashes Underscore Need for New Air Tankers

The High Park Fire, and another raging in New Mexico have underscored the need to replenish the nation’s aerial firefighting fleet.

After two recent crashes of large tankers, the fleet was reduced to nine. The Forest Service has since announced it is increasing the existing fleet to 17 with temporary contracts.

A Federal preliminary report has found that an air tanker that crashed while fighting a wildfire in southern Utah, killing both pilots, hit mountainous terrain about 700 feet off the flight path of its lead plane.

The Associated Press reports the National Transportation Safety Board found the Lockheed P2V-7 owned by Neptune Aviation of Missoula, Montana was on its second flight of the day, dropping retardant on the fire when it followed another plane into a shallow valley. The report says the agency is still probing what the plane’s flight path should have been and whether any deviation contributed to the June 3rd crash.

In Nevada, another plane which had a hard grounding without its front landing gear, is being repaired and could be back flying in a few months.