A Forest Service official for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest told the Reno Gazette-Journal, which first reported on the jurisdictional conflict, that the Forest Service might place higher standards on the aircraft, and said there’s also some confusion about the agency with which the Forest Service would contract the city of Reno or Washoe County.
Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, said it’s time for the federal government to figure out the process.
“There is no question the safety of aircraft fighting wildfires should be a priority,” he said. “However, when facing the possibility of a catastrophic wildfire, all resources should be made available.
“Clearly, the evaluation process should be revisited when an aircraft that has passed inspection for use by the sheriff’s department and another federal agency cannot be cleared for use in a timely manner.”
These issues matter, particularly out West.
The Bureau of Land Management controls about 245 million acres of land across the U.S., including 48 million acres in Nevada, or about two-thirds of the state. Forest Service lands cover 190 million acres of the U.S. and about 6 million acres of Nevada.
Rex McKnight, state fire management officer for the bureau in Nevada, said that when it first checked Washoe’s chopper, the bureau asked for some changes to meet specifications, and the county made the alterations.
The bureau then had to negotiate a fire-suppression agreement, and Mr. McKnight said that took about two years.
Washoe’s chopper was cleared before last year’s fire season and has fought nearly two-dozen fires. The sheriff’s department said the helicopter has saved millions of dollars of property from damage.
The Raven chopper is approved for action only at the beginning of wildland fires. Under federal law, agencies must try to steer firefighting to commercial aircraft.
Deputy Russell said his department isn’t trying to compete with commercial firms.
“We’re here for Washoe County. We want to help our citizens,” he said. “We’re not trying to take business away from anybody.”
Even without fighting the fire, Raven did take action on the Pinehaven blaze, the Gazette-Journal reported. It was part of the search for the arsonist.
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Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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