Part Two: The War Goes On!

Times Founding Publisher
August 9, 2018

Our editorial last week focused on the need for more large Air Tankers which could carry fire retardant quickly to forest fires in California.
At the time we were unaware that Congress had awarded California $130 million in 2013 to have seven C-130 aircraft modified for carrying and dropping fire retardant.
Those planes were in control of the U.S. Air Force and were originally for the use of US Forest Service in California.
But these planes never made it to the U.S. Forest Service.
It took the Air Force two years to award the contract to have the fire retardant delivery systems built and installed.
Two years later the U.S. Forest Service announced it was seeking to terminate the project, preferring to contract out to private companies the job of providing the planes to deliver the fire retardant where needed.
By that time, an estimated $80 million of the funds allocated by Congress had already been spent, and not one airplane had made it to the fire line.
Now with California ablaze, there has been such an uproar over the need for these planes, the administration changed its mind and now has allowed the work on the seven planes to continue. However, once they are modified to carry the retardant, they will be put in the service of Cal Fire — not the U.S. Forest Service.
One Senator who has pushed for the project to continue is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was instrumental in having the project included in the latest defense policy bill along with increasing the funding by $20 million for a total of $150 million for the modification of the seven planes.
The Air Force has estimated it will take $67.4 million to complete the modifications, but this will take time and it is left to be seen if the planes will be ready for next year’s fire season. This year is obviously too late, however, the planes could have been a major help in preventing the Ferguson fire from jumping the Merced River and heading for Yosemite.
While the U.S. Forest Service has no air tankers under its control, Cal Fire now has about 60 airplanes in active service, three of which are stationed at Castle.
We feel now is the time for local officials to see that Castle gets its share of the newly modified aircraft.
Recently Castle received a grant for $95,000 to improve its weather forecasting systems. Once in place, these systems could be helpful locally for Cal Fire and the Forest Service to predict which way the forest fires are likely to move and how much wind the firefighters will be dealing with.
We have seen in the past how projects like this can be derailed by politics. Since Congress has approved the funding and the state is run by Democrats, one would think that all roadblocks would be out of the way to fast track this project.
Let’s not let another five years go by and wonder why we don’t have enough Air Tankers to do the job.

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