AN OPEN LETTER TO THE GOVERNORS OF THE WGA
Five years ago this presentation was made to the director of Colorado’s Forest and Range-Land Health Program following the Waldo fire and that state’s record fire season. Seeing merit in the following proposal the director assisted the author in preparing his presentation to the 17 Governors of the WGA, (Western Governor’s Association) at their annual meeting, with the suggestion that it be implemented as a limited pilot program by the following fire season. It may be fair to ask in retrospect, if CA.s catastrophic fire tragedy might have been avoided if the director’s suggestion had been followed?
A PROPOSED, MULTI-STATE AIR NATIONAL GUARD, C-130 AIR-TANKER AND 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 was 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 thousands 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 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 & OTHER 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 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 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 General Scoggins) 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
General Scoggins also “brainstormed” the concept 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. Be it known I have no authority to speak for the Guard nor do I profess to have, except to say the comments made by several Generals having reviewed this proposal have been most favorable.