Opinion: California needs more planes and new technology to fight wildfires

An oil tanker drops a retarder on the Rainbow fire in September. Courtesy of OnScene.TV

Three years ago, the town of Paradise was destroyed by the campfire, which was later named the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

I saw the devastation with my own eyes because I was the National Guard dual-status commander at Camp Fire and was responsible for coordinating the military’s involvement during the crisis.

After the fire, leaders at local, state and federal levels reassessed the historic wildfire and the lessons learned for the next time, vowing never to let history repeat itself. The legislature approved funding for forest fire mitigation and prevention efforts and tried to hire additional staff, but if I look at the current state of our region on fire, is there anything really wrong? changed since then?

California recorded its worst fire season in 2020, with an estimated 4.2 million acres burned. The Tamarack fire, which broke out on July 4e weekend, was simply “watched” for the first 12 days until the blaze exploded uncontrollably, consuming more than 70,000 acres in its wake. In August, Greenville was destroyed by the Dixie Fire and a month later the Caldor Fire, which is still burning as I write these lines, started out as a bushfire and threatened one of California’s most scenic spots, Lake Tahoe.

These recent fires are proof that what we are doing is not working, and we need to look for new approaches and new technologies that can help firefighters on the ground.

As I wrote in February before the start of this year’s fire season, “Our country has the potential to lead the industry with innovative technologies and forward-thinking strategies, but only if we invest in and support these. new systems that can save more lives and homes. . I suggest that we take note of the dangers of 2020 and convert our learnings into swift legislative action to protect our first responders, civilians and critical infrastructure in the future. “

My feeling remains the same: we need to explore other firefighting resources and technologies available to us to protect our communities and save lives.

In particular, containerized aerial firefighting systems, or CAFFS, can combat forest fires originating from the air dropping water and the retarder out of cargo planes. This method provides ground crews with reliable aerial cover and provides a rapid retarder thrust on a live fire. This technology can be used at high altitudes to dump water where other aircraft cannot. Having the ability to fight fires at night would have been instrumental in fighting these forest fires.

A prime example of containerized aerial firefighting systems was developed by a Fresno-based company, which has an aerial firefighting system that can accurately over 32,000 gallons of retarder or water on a fire using the C-130 planes that we already have at our disposal.

As the fires burned this summer, countries like Israel and Greece were using containerized aerial firefighting systems technology to fight wildfires. It can be used on any standard cargo aircraft transforming any aircraft with a rear ramp into a fire fighting aircraft. Imagine if there were 20 or more additional planes that dropped 4,000 gallons or retarder every 20 to 30 minutes.

Our need for additional air resources is paramount, especially after our air capacities have been curtailed. Earlier this year, the world’s largest firefighting tanker was grounded over revenue concerns. Not to mention that at the start of this year’s fire season, the US Forest Service attempted to activate the 16 large private tankers, but could only find five.

Our lives, homes, and the environment are at stake, and taking action now to prepare for future wildfire seasons is critical. We cannot afford to look back three years from now and realize that we could have done something different.

Dana Hessheimer is a retired brigadier general and dual status commander of the National Guard during the camp fire. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public service journalism firm committed to explaining how the California Capitol works and why it matters.

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