Mark Udall, who has led the fight to strengthen the federal firefighting tanker fleet, called on the military to elevate the readiness status of its aerial firefighting assets — C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems — after the U.S. Forest Service and three private contractors failed to deliver five next-generation air tankers in accordance with their contracts. Udall said Coloradans should not have to worry about their lives or homes because of unacceptable contract delays.Read Udall's letters here.
"The U.S. Forest Service predicts another cycle of substantial fire activity is likely in 2014, and based on lessons learned from previous fires and delays in delivery of additional U.S. Forest Service tankers, I believe that support from Department of Defense aircraft may be more critical than ever," Udall wrote in his letter to the Pentagon. "As such, I request that you elevate the readiness status of the MAFFS units during the 2014 fire season to ensure those assets can provide expedited response times in the event of a major fire. A shorter response time by MAFFS assets would help fill gaps in the U.S. Forest Service tanker fleet and would help provide an effective initial response capable of containing fires early."
Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the military assets, coupled with the two next-generation tankers already online, will provide a total of more than 22 large air tankers to protect Colorado communities until the additional five next-generation tankers are brought online.
He said the U.S. Forest Service and three private contractors' failures to deliver are unacceptable and require accountability.
"These tankers promised to be a game changer for western communities grappling with the perennial threat of modern mega-fires. Since then, I have been repeatedly assured that they will be delivered at any moment," Udall wrote on his letter to the U.S. Forest Service. "While I am pleased that two of these safer, faster and more reliable tankers are now available to join the existing fleet of approximately 20 large air tankers — which is an improvement from 2013 — I am deeply concerned that delivery of the remaining five will be further delayed and unavailable for the 2014 wildfire season. This is unacceptable."
Udall has been a relentless advocate for Colorado communities facing the threat of catastrophic mega-fires. He has been the leading voice in Congress to update and strengthen the federal air tanker fleet, including through the transfer of excess military aircraft. He recently pressed the U.S. Forest Service to quickly adopt the Government Accountability Office's recommendations on how to upgrade its air tanker fleet.
Udall also has championed common-sense programs and strategies to prevent Western wildfires. He recently introduced bipartisan legislation to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to proactively work with states and localities on wildfire mitigation projects. He also has been a tireless advocate to encourage homeowners to prepare their homes for wildfire, including clearing fuels from around their homes and making a plan for what to do if faced with an imminent wildfire.
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