By Karen Brainard
Despite the federal government’s contract cancellation of a fleet of large airtankers used to fight wildland fires, authorities say it should not impact local firefighting efforts.
Just three days after an Aero Union P-3 Orion air tanker landed at the Ramona Air Attack Base to help fight the Eagle Fire in July, the U.S. Forest Service announced it was terminating its
exclusive-use contract with the Sacramento-based company. Aero Union’s six P-3 air tankers are capable of dropping about 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.
The Eagle Fire that burned near Warner Springs was a multi-agency firefighting effort that included the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire.
Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said that, unless there are fires all across the state of California, the inability to call in Aero Union’s air tankers should not impact local efforts to fight wildfires.
Cal Fire has the largest department-owned aerial firefighting fleet in the world, noted Mohler.
“We look at the big picture whenever we have a fire,” said Mohler. “We move aircraft across the state to backfill.”
Mohler added that Cal Fire did not contract with Aero Union but the P-3 air tankers were provided when Cal Fire requested them from the forest service. Mohler said Cal Fire has other private contractors it calls on when additional aerial support is needed.
“We’re going to have to anticipate,” he said.
The forest service, which signed a five-year contract with Aero Union in 2008, said the company did not meet mandated structural inspection program requirements.
Tom Harbour, director of the forest service’s fire and aviation management program, said in a news release that the federal agency still possesses aircraft support needed for this year’s fire season.
The forest service contracts with other private companies for large airtankers, helicopters and scooper aircraft, said Stanton Florea, a spokesperson with the U.S. Forest Service.
“If we have large fires here...more of those aircraft would be staged in California,” he said.