Call for answers
Schiff wants congressional review of Forest Service’s night-flight ban
By André Coleman 04/08/2010
Seven months after the US Forest Service reportedly canceled air drops that may have contained the devastating Station Fire in its early stages, Rep. Adam Schiff has asked the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to review the agency’s ban against night and early morning flights.
According to a statement released last week, Schiff has asked Chairman Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Ranking Member Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) to include language requiring the review in the Forest Service’s 2011 funding bill currently moving through Congress.
“Last summer, the Station Fire raised questions about the Forest Service’s current night flying policy,” Schiff said in a prepared statement. “Since a tragic helicopter collision during the 1970s, the Forest Service has had neither the equipment nor the training to do night flights. As aviation technology improves we need to ensure that the Forest Service’s policies keep pace, so that we can guarantee Southern Californians the safest, most effective response whenever a fire breaks out.”
That policy, say residents and area politicians, forced the grounding of a helitanker that could have helped contain last summer’s fire before it began raging out of control.
“The Forest Service’s flawed policy prevented the early extinguishment of the recent Station Fire,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich in a prepared statement. “As aircraft sat idling on the tarmac, the fire grew out of control — taking the lives of two firefighters, burning over 160,000 acres and destroying over 100 homes and structures.”
Neither Schiff nor Antonovich agree with an internal report by Forest Service officials, which claims that the fire got out of control only after it reached difficult terrain that was too step and dangerous for firefighters to effectively combat the fire. That report does not mention the grounding of the aircraft or the ban against nighttime water drops.