OPERATION WILDEFIRE, A FOREST FIGHTING
C-130 + TASKFORCE
Study author, Christian Wilde
Following the devastating Waldo fire in Colorado, that state’s forestry leadership saw merit in the following proposal and suggested the author make a presentation to the WGA, the then 17 Governors of the (Western Governor's Association) at their annual meeting. Most encouraging was the support of Forest and Range-land Program Director, Ann M. Walker of Washington state. Here for your review is the suggestion that the WGA consider implementing a pilot test program to evaluate the concept.
A new fire-fighting concept, Operation Wildefire, having previously received an award from the California Resource Board’s Forum for Public Policy earlier, had now been presented to Major General Frank Scoggins (since retired) of the Washington State, Air National Guard. Upon reviewing the concept, General Scoggins extended an immediate invitation to the author to come to Camp Murray in WA to further discuss and evaluate the possibilities of implementing such a mass proposal. As the General suggested, “Either we fly you here or I am coming to Los Angeles, but we have to talk!” Following the meeting at Camp Murray, the General suggested that we present the plan to the Major Generals of several western states at their annual meeting at Scott’s Air Force base in Missouri. Their response was most favorable!
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 existing process may in fact be anything but normal. Operation Wildefire may therefore be one “common sense” concept, borne out of necessity. While a limited number of air tankers arrive at a fire, they must depart for long periods for restocking of water or retardant. returning to find an escalating fire that may now take weeks if not months to contain. Wouldn’t an “overkill” first strike approach make most sense?
A MULTI-STATE JOINT AIRBORNE C-130 AIRCRAFT TASK FORCE
There has been through the years, since Operation Wildefire’s initial presentation, an adequate number of modified retrofitted tanker aircraft units tax payer paid for and positioned on tarmacs of the Air National Guard 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 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 previous time of war. This task force would not require a governor’s (time delaying) State of Emergency implementation but perhaps activated at PL3 with the Fire Center (to be determined). The Guard aircraft could depart from neighboring states to rendezvous with other units arriving at most fires within 2-4 hours. Or a second possibility of having a contingency of tankers and crews (as suggested by General Scoggins) 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 dispatched to any fire breakout spot in any state, on target in a matter of 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 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) enthusiastic 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. 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 that if they were asked 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 neutralizing the fire in the quickest possible time should be the overriding mandated objective.
If Operation Wildefire had been in place today, might it have made a major difference in containing this year’s devastating west coast fires and at a much earlier time to containment?
The author does not profess to speak for the Guard in any capacity other than the proposal author.