Senators Seek GAO Review of Aircraft Used to Fight Forest Fires

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Concerned about the ability of the Forest Service and Department of Interior to fight large wildfires, Senator Ron Wyden is asking the General Accounting Office to examine the agencies’ efforts to identify the number and type of fire-fighting aircraft needed to respond to wildland fires.

In a letter to GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Wyden and other senators raised concerns that the federal agencies responsible for responding to forest fire fires—the Forest Service and four agencies in the Department of the Interior—do not have the appropriate number and mix of aircraft that will be needed for fire suppression operations.

The letter also points out that the number of large air tankers under Federal contract has substantially declined since 2002 because of concerns about the safety of older aircraft and cited an earlier GAO report that the number of air tankers available under federal contact has been reduced from 44 in 2002, to 19 in 2009, to 14 in August 2011.

“Wildland fires burn millions of acres every year, with some threatening communities and important natural and cultural resources.  With increasing stresses related to changing climatic conditions, insect infestations, and the ongoing development in the wildland-urban interface, we expect the threats from wildland fire to continue to grow in the coming decades,” the letter reads. “Aircraft are important tools that assist firefighters in controlling wildland fires and helping to protect the public, property, and resources.”

“An independent, third-party review is needed to help the Congress and the Federal agencies to better evaluate the options for addressing these issues.  As a result, we are requesting that GAO examine the Forest Service and Interior agencies’ efforts since 2002 to identify the number and types of firefighting aircraft they believe are needed to respond to wildland fires,” the letter continues.

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