Fire season is in full swing and it appears that it going to be the most active one in years. It started in December across Texas and a good swath of the south central states.
Texas began contracting aerial resources in mid-February and by mid- April nearly every available aircraft in the country was in the Lone Star State. They would include the DC-10 very large airtanker, seven Air National Guard Modular Aerial Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS), and the Evergreen 747 very large airtanker.
Since the first of the year wildfires have ravaged about one and a half million acres and destroyed almost four hundred homes, businesses, and churches. There is no end in sight as the long term forecast calls for above average temperatures and below average precipitation. Governor Rick Perry asked residents to pray for rain over Easter Weekend to end the inferno.
The Evergreen 747 has been based at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, but it is contracted to fight a huge fire burning in Mexico, about seventy miles south of Eagle Pass, Texas. The Mexican government appealed tp the United States and Canada to help battle the blaze which is doing a great deal of damage in an ecological sensitive area in a national park. Along with the 747, the Mexicans have contracted three Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs), and two Type One helicopters. Mexico has appropriated $8.3 USDs to support these efforts.
All Variable Term Contracts for SEATs have been been canceled for the 2011 fire season. Legal issues over the ranking system the government uses to issue the contracts led to the cancellation. The government has never made public the criteria used to rank the vendors. Many think the system was flawed since its inception and maybe the lawsuits will make it more fair and strait forward.In mid-April, the government canceled the aerial firefighting contract with Aero Union.
This is the company that operates the entire fleet of P-3 Heavy Air Tankers. This came at the peak of the Texas spring fire storm. One would think that the government would have allowed the P-3s to operate during this critical period and straighten out the dispute later.
Within about a week, the issues were settled and the aircraft were back in service.It is shaping up to be a very active season across the western states this year, as well. After a three-year slump in activity, it will be welcomed by most aircrews. I hope all have a safe and prosperous season and maybe I will see you in the mountains one day.