AirTalk for July 16, 2012

Could the Station Fire happen again?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The out of control Station Fire burned more than 160,000 acres.

Wildfires have been sparking across the Southland this month. So far, only a relatively small acreage has been affected, but it's a reminder of the vulnerability in the SoCal region.

It's been almost three years since the devastating and deadly Station Fire, which started on August 26, 2009, and scorched large portions of San Gabriel County. Two firefighters were killed, more than 160,000 urban acres were burned and several homes were destroyed.

The Forest Service promised a report on what could have been done better — and whether night-time firefighting aviation should be part of its operations but has yet to deliver.

That doesn’t sit well with Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) who says his constituents need answers.

“It’s really mind-boggling to step back and realize that we’re three years now from the Station Fire and we still don’t have answers that we asked for three years ago,” said Schiff on AirTalk. “And that is the Forest Service gave up the capacity in the 1970s to fight fires at night and so they have to call in other agencies which may or may not be available.”

The Forest Service stopped flying in the 1970s after a tragic helicopter crash. Sciff feels that night-flying needs to be considered again.

“The technology has improved, the training is better. It’s more safe, it’s never going to be safe, but it’s more safe then it was 30 years ago,” Schiff claimed.

Schiff believes ultimately the Forest Service knows full well night-flying ought to be implemented, but that it’s worried about who will pay for the services. The Congressman said that one way or another we will have to pay because these fires aren’t going away.

The Forest Service was asked to comment and be on the program but declined.

UPDATE: After the show, the Forest Service issued the following statement:

Statement from National Director of Fire and Aviation Tom Harbour:

The Forest Service has been continuing its dialogue in regards to night flying, and the Forest Service continues its efforts in evaluating night flying.

Currently, the Forest Service is contracting for all daytime operations, relying upon cooperators for night firefighting operations and Incident EMS support. The Forest Service continues working with cooperator agencies in Southern California to provide helicopter night flying coverage for Forest Service fires.

In addition, the Forest Service is considering resumption of helicopter night operations to expand firefighting mission support using night vision and hoist equipped helicopters to provide 24-hour air support from two helicopter bases (helibases) in Southern California.

Weigh In:


Should the forest service have unleashed a more aggressive aerial attack? Is it time to make this standard practice? When it comes to battling big fires, would the benefits of night-flying outweigh the costs?

Guest:

Adam B. Schiff, (D-CA) Congressman representing California’s 29th district, which includes Alhambra, Altadena, Burbank, Glendale, Griffith Park, Monterey Park, Pasadena, San Gabriel, South Pasadena, Temple City


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