Sharing air tankers to fight Western wildfires makes sense

Sharing air tankers to fight Western wildfires makes sense

04 July 2013

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USA — We’ve previously expressed skepticism about a plan state lawmakers approved earlier this year to create a state aerial firefighting fleet.

But when we heard Gov. John Hickenlooper say Tuesday that he was looking into the possibility of Colorado joining forces with other Western states to create a firefighting fleet, we were intrigued.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat who is chairman of the Western Governors Association, said he has been talking with his counterparts from surrounding states about combining forces on creating an aerial firefighting fleet.

“I think there’s a recognition, if you look historically, the forest fires start in the south, in Arizona and New Mexico, and work their way north up through Colorado and up into Wyoming and Montana,” Hickenlooper said Tuesday. “Ideally, if we all had a regional set of assets — planes — we could deploy them toward the south at first and then we wouldn’t all have to have planes sitting on the ground.

“We can make sure planes are being used consistently all through the summer or as needed.”

When lawmakers proposed a Colorado-only fleet, we balked at the cost, which approached $20 million up front with operating costs of more than $1 million each year after that. (Though lawmakers approved a bill this year creating the fleet, they didn’t fund it, so the idea is actually on ice at the moment.)

We’d have many of the same questions and concerns about a regional fleet. How many planes? At what cost? How would the cost be divvied up among the states? Who would decide where the planes would go?

Still, we think this approach is worth exploring. Colorado might find sharing the costs of a fleet much more attractive than going it alone.

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