USA –-President Obama signed S. 3261, Contract Awards for Large Air Tankers, a week after a firefighting aircraft crashed into rugged terrain near the Utah-Nevada border, killing the two Idaho men on board. The air tanker was dropping retardant on a 5,000-acre wildfire. In a public read-out, the presidents office said the Forest Service must accelerate the contracting of the next-generation air tankers for wildfire suppression. As part of that strategy, the administration proposed an additional $24 million in the president’s 2013 budget to begin modernizing the fleet.
[This] administration will continue to support state and local responders, and stands ready to provide additional resources should they be needed by responders working to protect lives and property, it said.
Upgrading the fire services air tanker fleets is a priority in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interiors National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, Phase II national report, said Chief Bob Roper, chair of the IAFC’s Wildland Fire Policy Committee and a recently retired chief from the Ventura County (Calif.) Fire Protection District. Roper said the report was crafted by working with federal, state and local governments, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and citizens.
Its never been a priority until now, when planes are dropping out of the skies, he said. So the president and Congress have acknowledged that and are expediting the process.
Roper said the report addresses the aging air tanker fleet as well as the need for other equipment and resources. In addition, it addressed the personal responsibility of builders and residents living in wildland areas to ensure their properties are fire-resilient. This includes building fire-adapted communities with a focus on restoring and maintaining wildfire resilient landscapes.
Citizen engagement is essential to the strategy, with Roper admitting there is no legal mandate or compliance policies in place for the public to comply. However, he hopes public-education campaigns will convince citizens it just makes sense to invest in fire-adapted communities, so they can survive a wildland fire if there are no available firefighting resources.
People cant expect a fire engine to be at every house in a wildland fire, he added.
It is incumbent upon the public to take simple steps through the NFPA Firewise Communities program which educates builders and residents about living in wildfire areas to build a fire-resident home with defensible space between their property and the forest, Roper said.
Residents must take personal responsibility to ensure their community will sustain fire, he said. This strategy has to become a way of life.