USA — A top pursuit a couple of months ago, having a single engine air tanker (SEAT) positioned at Ruidoso’s Sierra Blanca Regional Airport to quickly jump on a wildfire start, is less of a priority of a local group established after last year’s devastating Little Bear Fire.
Meeting Monday, the Little Bear Forest Reform Coalition’s Chair Mary Weaver said a local SEAT would be nice but may be somewhat impractical.
“After talking to a lot of people, having some of the professionals from the State Forestry, BLM, other entities like the village come and talk to us, our board decided that we would back-burner this at this point” Weaver told those at the meeting. “What we’ve been told by most of these entities is that if air support is needed, it’s close and it’s pretty easy to get through the (fire dispatch) command center. We still would really like to have something close by, just an insurance that fires can be put out but we have to rely on the expertise of our fire personnel, state, local, county. They’ve assured us that they can get that kind of equipment if they need it. So we still are interested in that kind of support if we can get it. It’s designated through the (fire severity designation) that they do and there’s a process for getting that. We’ll kind of leave it up to them to continue pushing for that. As individuals we all can continue to let people know that we’re interested in just making sure the community’s protected from fire any way they can do it.”
New Mexico State Forestry’s Capitan Division Forester Lynn Lovelace said the region’s fire dispatch office in Alamogordo would coordinate the responding resources when a wildland fire occurs.
“They normally have a heavy (air tanker) there whenever they bring it on contract,” Lovelace said. “But we order from them whatever we need so if we needed a heavy it could be sitting in Texas, it could be sitting in Arizona, it could be sitting in Albuquerque, or it could be sitting in Alamogordo. There’s also a helicopter that the BIA (US Bureau of Indian Affairs) puts on contract early in the year that sits at Mescalero. The BLM orders SEATs, we can order SEATs, and it just depends on where they are. And there’s other resources we can get. We also order engines when we need them.”
Village of Ruidoso Forestry Department Director Dick Cooke said there are plenty of fire fighting resources in the region when the fire season is ratcheted up.
“The disadvantage to the local community is they may be several hours away to get there,” Cooke said.
Weaver noted even if a SEAT is stationed at Sierra Blanca Regional Airport, the air tanker could be dispatched to another location where a wildland fire breaks out.
“So even though we might be paying for it, it might not be here,” Weaver said. “When we need it, it might be just as quick and easy to get it from someplace else.”
Weaver said if money was no object and a SEAT could be placed at every airport, “that would be a great thing.”
Weaver said she has come away from more than six months of coalition meetings with fire experts realizing limited funding would be better directed at reducing the fire threat through hazardous fuels thinning projects.