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Wildfire News Of The Day (the Firebomber Publications blog) provides comprehensive international wildfire news. Subscribers include over 10,000 personnel from fire agencies, contractors, and government entities on five continents. "BEST NEWSLETTER I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY 32 YEARS IN THE FIRE SERVICE" - San Diego Fire Department Chief Brian Fennessy.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Today, tragedy struck as five San Bernardino National Forest firefighters were caught in a burnover. Three were killed outright, one died later from burns sustained in the fire and the last is in critical condition at a local burn center. And while the Esperanza fire continues to grow (now at 10,000 acres), the DC-10 Supertanker sits on the ground at nearby Victorville. Why? Because the US Forest Service has not given it a contract yet. The pilot is on his way to Cleveland for a wedding. The co-pilot is in Texas. Why? Because the US Forest Service has not given them a contract yet. Four firefighters are dead and one is clinging to life. Why? Well, you get the idea. In this instance, the old rhyme ‘For want of a nail...’ could be updated to read ‘For want of a contract...’

Yes, the USFS will say all the standard things to the families of the firefighters killed in the burnover. ‘They were killed doing what they loved’. ‘They died bravely’. ‘They will not be forgotten’. But the bottom line is that they’re still dead, and they didn’t need to die like this. If the USFS had gotten off their posterior and signed up the DC-10 for a contract, the crew could have been flying the fire. Aircraft have been working the fireline since sunup, so there would have been nothing to exclude the DC-10, if only they’d had that contract. Considering the fact that the Department of Justice (i.e., the federal government) is going to have to pay out the $275,000 Public Safety Officer Benefit (PSOB) per household for the four firefighters who died (a total of $1.1 million at the moment), the DC-10, which currently has an on-call contract with the California Department of Forestry (CDF) of $26,000 per hour, would have paid for 42 hours worth of Supertanker coverage. Another old saying is penny-wise, pound-foolish. First the feds end up paying over $70 million for the Day Fire, when, according to sources at CDF, it could have been snuffed within the first three days by DC-10 retardant drops, now four USFS firefighters are dead and the government will end up spending who-knows-how-much money on the Esperanza fire. Talk about government wastage. Either the USFS is ineffective or it’s incompetent. I haven’t decided which is true, but I think the families of the dead firefighters might be willing to speculate. How many more tragedies have to occur before the USFS contracts the DC-10. I hate to think. Let me know what your thoughts are at


  • At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Having worked for the USFS, I would go with incompetent and the same can be said for the BLM. If you can get them to coordinate themselves they can be very effective. It is easy to chronicle exactly how ineffective the feds are if you examine pretty much every tragedy fire from Mann Gulch on. If you want to enlist a very educated and outspoken ally, consider contacting John J. Nance. His book "Fire Flight", although fictional addresses these same issues of budget cuts and tankers sitting on the runways while fires are allowed to grow to unmanageable sizes. Check out his website at

  • At 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with your point about getting more aggressive with aerial firefighting equipment. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to make the connection between a lack of aircraft during the initial attack phases of the Esparanza fire, and the deaths of these firefighters. Between this and the comment you made in the Press Enterprise, it misleads readers to believe that these deaths would not have happened if more planes had been in the air (at least that’s how I read it). The chain of events that likely lead to these deaths began early in the morning, long before any aircraft would have been flying. I’m not suggesting that aircraft would not have made any difference, although the small window of time they could have been in the air and effective in the wind conditions prior to the tragic event makes me wonder. It’s more likely that in retrospect, we’ll find multiple other things that should have or could have been done differently. Of those things, I think the final report will likely identify that the presence or absence of a DC-10 was a much less significant factor (if a factor at all) in the final outcome.


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