Saying federal officials lack adequate air power to fight fires from the sky, Riverside County Supervisors Bob Buster and Jeff Stone, are urging the U.S. Senate to support legislation to convert excess military air tankers to help fight wildfires nationwide, according to a county news release.
"Riverside County relies on the U.S. Forest Service for aerial fire suppression," said Buster, whose First District that includes Lake Elsinore and Wildomar is prone to wildfires. "Transferring 14 Air Force C-27J Spartans is an excellent way to get forest service pilots and crews into airworthy planes in a matter of weeks, not years."
Stone, who led the successful effort to keep CalFire’s Air Attack base at Hemet Ryan Airport in his district, called the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 “a no brainer," said County Spokesperson Ray Smith.
The bill was written by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Bill Nelson of Florida.
The U.S. Air Force has ceased operating the aircraft in Afghanistan and plans to retire its fleet of 21 C-27-Js no later than fiscal year 2013 which begins in October, according to a post on Wildfire Today. The only operator of the C-27J inside the United States is the Air National Guard.
“The Forest Service needs to modernize its entire airtanker fleet," said Sen. John McCain, in a news release. "We have an opportunity to take the C-27J, an aircraft the Pentagon no longer wants, and give it to the Forest Service to enhance aircraft safety and lower existing maintenance costs. The C-27J should be kept in the service of the American people to help our brave fire crews, rather than sit in an airplane boneyard."
The Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a resolution supporting the legislation at its meeting on Aug. 28, Smith said.
Additionally, Stone and Buster have instructed County Executive Officer Jay E. Orr to seek a joint resolution of support from the state Senate and Assembly, Smith said.
Federal legislators—including Sen. Barbara Boxer and Reps. Ken Calvert, Mary Bono-Mack, Darrel Issa and Jerry Lewis—also will be encouraged to lend support to the bill. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is an original co-sponsor of the bill, Smith said.
"This move is absolutely essential to the safety of Riverside County residents and firefighters on the ground. The bill will help restore a depleted fleet that has only nine air tankers available to meet the needs of our entire nation," said Stone, whose Third District includes Temecula and Murrieta.