Due to budget cuts, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection–CalFire for short–is canceling its contract for exclusive use of two DC-10 supertankers. These supertankers are “perhaps [the] most effective tool” the agency has for fighting fires, says the news story.
That’s not just an exaggeration, it is probably completely wrong. When the Antiplanner was in forestry school, some four decades ago, the fire management professors were openly scornful of aerial firefighting. “The agencies use aerial tankers only because the press demands it,” they said. “They need the video to show on TV.”
Word on the street is that CalFire canceled the contract precisely because the supertankers were both the most expensive and least effective weapons in the agency’s firefighting arsenal. If they really need the planes, they can hire them on a day-to-day basis, provided someone else hasn’t hired them. This will cost more per day but probably less per year.
The Forest Service is in the same situation. The agency has cut its fleet from 44 to 19. Although Congress is probably eager to fund its use of supertankers, word is that agency officials don’t want to be saddled with the supertankers and so have delayed release of a “blue-ribbon” report on the topic.
No doubt Evergreen Aviation, which owns the world’s largest firefighting supertanker, has used its contacts in Congress to pressure the Forest Service to hire its planes. Evergreen has a long history of using political connections to sell its services to the CIA, Forest Service, and other agencies.
In other news, the California Department of Forestry has recognized that fighting fires, not managing forests, is its main job and changed its name to reflect that reality. Now it is time for the Forest Service–which spends half its budget on fire–to change its name to the Fire Service.