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US Forest Service predicts active 2012 fire season

April 27, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
This year's wildfire season is still months away, but U.S. Forest Service is already predicting it will be a busy one due to a drier than normal winter.

The forecast is made worse with the reduction of the agency's large air tanker fleet used to battle fires. Only 11 remain in service across the country.

"We have a wide array of firefighters, equipment and aircraft. Our aircraft are nationally mobile and we move them frequently depending on need," said Jennifer Jones with the U.S. Forest Service National Interagency Fire Center.

Still, that has California's fire agency concerned.

"They're subject to deployment throughout the country that has significantly reduced the availability of aircraft or could in California," said Riverside County CAL FIRE Chief John Hawkins.

CAL FIRE is already preparing for this year's wildfire season. At Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base, firefighters from across the state were busy training. The base is home to CAL FIRE's own air fleet including two air tankers.

"The aircraft play a major role whether they are fixed wing air tankers or helicopters. So we need those aircrafts," said Hawkins.

CAL FIRE says boots on the ground also play a critical role during a wildfire. The agency has moved it's staffing schedule ahead by a month.

"What we're going to is we're always going to throw the maximum resources at every starting fire. We're going to go after it," said Hawkins.

In the meantime, the U.S. Forest Service is hoping for the funding to replace its out-dated fleet with new air tankers.

"Those are air tankers that are turbin powered, they have criteria like payload of 24-hundred gallons of retardant, but they are next generation air tankers," said Jones.

It's a next generation fleet firefighters would like to see now.


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