OPERATION WILDEFIRE, A FOREST FIGHTING AIR-TANKER INTERSTATE TASK-FORCE
FORESTRY TWO YEARS AGO, saw merit in the following proposal and aided the author in preparing his proposal for presentation to the 17 Governors of the (WGA). (Western Governor's Association). Here is Operation Wildefire with the suggestion by Forest & Range-land Health Program Director to the Governors that a pilot program be implemented by the following fire season. Your comments are welcomed.
A PROPOSED, MULTI-STATE AIR NATIONAL GUARD and Other AIR-TANKER, TASK FORCE
Operation Wildefire, having received an award from the California Resource Board's Forum for Public Policy more than 2 decades earlier, had been 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 the General's suggestion 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 antiquated fire 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 common sense concept, borne out of necessity.
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 have been put in place and functional by the coming fire season. The combined effort might well still provide a viable solution to a very complex and costly problem. Here is the proposed solution, Operation Wildefire.
A MULTI-STATE JOINT AIRBORNE C-130 AND OTHER CONVERTED AIRTANKER TASK FORCE
There has been through the years since Operation Wildefire's initial presentation, an adequate number of modified retrofitted tanker aircraft positioned on tarmacs of the Air National Guard units in several western states. The suggestion has been that certain of these units be mobilized and assigned to perform as part of a combined multi-state, airborne taskforce 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 the Air Force 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 of having a contingency of tankers and crews from the various states 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. It had also been suggested, this advantage could be taken to any state in the US within hours.
THE RATIONALE FOR THIS PROGRAM
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 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. There are also several other converted air tankers such as the Grumman S-2T, DC 6, 7 and DC10’s and even a Boeing 747 owned and operated by Calfire.
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.
The Waldo Canyon fire last year in CO, reportedly cost insurers 453.7M,this does not include the actual cost of fighting the fire. What will be the cost again this year for the fires? Many of us can still remember the devastating Oakland Hills fire years ago which cost CA insurers $1.5 billion in property damage? By today's dollar value the cost would have been $2.4 billion. 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 fires and at a much earlier time to containment?
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
The author does not profess to speak for the Guard in any capacity other than suggesting a new methodology for their involvement and the discussion which has been represented herein.