Safety studies ordered where pilot sparked fire

Safety studies ordered where pilot sparked fire

7 February 2008

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USA — The Air Force will be required to perform formal studies of safety measures at the Warren Grove Gunnery Range in New Jersey as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act signed into law Jan. 29.

The studies — which will include annual reports through 2010 and a master plan for the range to be submitted in 180 days — were written into the funding bill by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., because a pilot accidentally touched off a major forest fire in May.

Ignited by an errant flare from an F-16 fighter jet during a training mission, the fire scorched an estimated 18,000 acres of New Jersey forest and damaged four homes. Thousands of residents in Stafford and Barnegat evacuated their homes as firefighters battled the blaze for three days.

An internal Air Force review of the incident found pilot error and poor communication protocols at the range were at fault for the use of a flare when the danger of fire was high.

The safety report is to be presented to congressional defense committees by the secretary of the Air Force no later than March 1. Similar reports must be presented to Congress in 2009 and 2010. The Air Force must also craft a master plan for the range by the end of July.

The plan will include measures taken to mitigate the encroachment of the range on surrounding communities and the impact of range operations on the environment and public health.

“We support the operation of the range. We’d just like to make sure they take whatever precautions they need to take,” Barnegat Mayor Al Cirulli said.

In Stafford, where the township’s governing body has demanded safety concerns be addressed before the range reopens, Mayor Carl W. Block said he viewed this as “one last chance” for the Air Force. “The question is, can you do this safely and give the people who are neighbors — can you give them the level of confidence that they’re not going to face something again?” he said.

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