[Sen. Feinstein] – U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) announced Thursday the U.S. Forest Service will resume its nighttime firefighting program to battle out-of-control wildfires in Southern California. Previously, the Forest Service restricted aerial firefighting operations to daylight hours only.
In August 2009, the deadly Station Fire burned out of control when the fire escaped containment overnight. The fire ultimately became the largest fire in Los Angeles history, destroying 209 homes and structures, blackening more than 160,000 acres, and tragically taking to the lives of two firefighters.
“This is long overdue, but a welcome policy change by the Forest Service,” said Senator Feinstein. “With California’s hot, dry conditions, wildfires are increasingly dangerous and difficult to contain. Attacking fires from the air at night can bolster firefighting efforts because temperatures are cooler, humidity is higher and Santa Ana winds die down. This new policy will allow the Forest Service to use aviation assets around the clock to save lives and property in California.”
Congressman Schiff said: “The Forest Service’s decision to allow night flights is a welcome announcement. We will never know with certainty if night flying could have extinguished the Station Fire in those critical first hours, but I’m glad we will have a better chance in the future. With temperatures hitting triple digits this summer, it’s hard for California residents not to worry that another fire could sweep through and devastate our region once again. This step today by the Forest Service is long overdue, but will provide an important new line of defense against fire for our neighborhoods.”
Congressman McKeon said: “Each year wildfires threaten our homes, businesses, families and livelihoods. It is gravely important that we learn from past fires to make the changes necessary to help our firefighters in the future. We appreciate the efforts to address changes to policy that are needed to save lives. Allowing nighttime flights will help firefighters better do their jobs and fight these dangerous fires. We are pleased to see that the Forest Service has taken the GAO recommendations seriously and have begun to implement these much needed changes.”
In letters sent after the Station Fire, Senator Feinstein and Congressmen Schiff and McKeon urged the Forest Service to update its firefighting tactics to allow for nighttime operations, provided flights could be conducted safely.
The Forest Service is not the only firefighting agency in California to determine that nighttime aerial firefighting is cost-effective and can be done safely. Fire departments in the cities of San Diego and Los Angeles and the counties of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Orange and Kern already have effective nighttime aerial firefighting programs in place.
L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who has been pushing the federal goverment to resume nighttime flying, issued the following statement Thursday:
“On the eve of the third anniversary of the Station Fire, which killed two Los Angeles County firefighters and burned 160,000 acres, the U.S. Forest Service has finally allowed nighttime aerial attacks. We are pleased that the Forest Service has responded favorably to our continuous appeals for the policy to be changed. However, allowing nighttime flying is not the only change necessary for the Forest Service to conduct effective aerial firefighting.
“They need to immediately implement the RAND study, which they commissioned, on updating their aging fleet of contracted fixed wing airtankers with the recommended Super-Scoopers and not begin another study on what to do.
“Additional recommendations from the Los Angeles County Fire Department need to be implemented including brush clearance within 250 feet of any structure, use of mechanized equipment and allowing local command of firefighting.”