- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2020

California businessman John Cox has an idea for tackling the state’s catastrophic wildfires: Divert funding from the much-maligned high-speed rail project to build a firefighting “air armada.”

His CHANGE-CA launched on Wednesday a statewide radio ad campaign making the case for a state Fire Air Corps, a “large fleet of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters dedicated to rapid wildfire response and containment.”

“Imagine an air armada of 60 planes and helicopters attacking fires,” says Mr. Cox in the 60-second ad. “Launched at dawn, an air armada would make an impact, giving firefighters a chance to contain fires before they become infernos. This will help save lives and protect property.”

Mr. Cox, who was the California Republican Party’s 2018 gubernatorial nominee, last year launched Citizens for Honest and Non-Partisan Government Effectiveness, or CHANGE, which seeks to reach out to the state’s growing bloc of independent voters on quality-of-life issues.

The state has struggled once again this year with a devastating wildfire season that has seen blazes torch more than four million acres and claim 31 lives, according to CalFire.

Meanwhile, the cost of completing the high-speed rail project continues to rise. The latest business plan released in February estimated the total at $80.3 billion, up from $64 billion in 2016 and $77 billion in 2018, reported the Associated Press.

CalFire estimated that the fire-suppression emergency fund for the 2019-2020 wildfire season at $691 million.

“Fires are killers. Let’s attack this enemy like we attack terrorists, with overwhelming firepower,” says Mr. Cox in the ad. “We can create and deploy an air armada, and it would cost far less than what we’re wasting on a bullet train.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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