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U.S. Forest Chief: Feds will have about 25 air tankers to fight fires this season

Published: April 16, 2013, 9:59 am, by Megan Schrader

The chief of the U.S. Forest Service told Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, that he expected to issue contracts for seven new next-generation air tankers to fight wildfires across the nation but stopped short of assuring the Senator that there wouldn’t be another delay in the process.

The U.S. Forest Service currently has between nine and 12 air tankers in commission to fight wildfires, down from 44 tankers a year ago. Much of the fleet was grounded after safety concerns were raised when wings fell off two of the Vietnam War era planes.

“Given we’re facing another potentially sever fire season, what can you do to ensure me we’re going to have the next generation of air tankers in the air for the next fire season,” Udall asked Chief Tom Tidwell in a Senate committee hearing.

“In addition to the legacy air tankers, in the next few weeks, we’ll issue the contract for up to seven next generation aircraft,” Tidwell said. “In addition to that we’ll continue to rely on the MAFFS units and aircraft down from Canada and Alaska.”

Tidwell said that between aircraft from Canada, the  MAFFS – Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System aircraft – which are retrofitted planes from the National Guard used to fight fires, he was confident there would be about 25 large tankers to fight forest fires this season.