Fire Conditions Are Worsening
Fire experts, meteorologists, fire ecologists, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior all agree that our planet is in a state of climate change that is producing drought and record-breaking temperatures. During the last decade these changes were more severe than any in recorded history. The result of these conditions are wildland fires are greater in number, higher in intensity, and with greater flame lengths, and more acreage destroyed than we have ever seen in our lifetimes. These conditions are producing mega-fires which are over one hundred thousand acres. Predictions are that these changes will continue during the next twenty years or more. These mega-fires need larger quantities of water delivered faster, destroy the ozone rapidly, and cause the loss of many firefighters' lives.
The Rand Corporation
In the fall of 2009, the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Dept of Agriculture, asked the Rand Corporation to undertake the study, "Determination and cost benefit analysis of the optimal mix of helicopters and air tankers for the U.S. Forest Service." The Forest service requested additional Follow-up analysis in the fall of 2010. The objective of these research projects was to assist the forest service in determining the composition of a fleet of air tankers, scoopers, and helicopters that would minimize the total social cost of wildfires, including the cost of large fires and the costs of aircraft. This report summarizes the research approach and results and should be of interest to Forest Service officials and others who are concerned with ensuring that the nation's wildfire firefighting capabilities are maintained in an efficient and cost-effective way.
Key Findings of the Rand Corporation Report:
Across All Analyses, Scoopers Were the Dominant Component of the U.S. Forest Service's Optimal Fleet Mix
- Scoopers are considerably less expensive to own and operate than larger helicopters and fixed-wing airtankers ($2.8 million versus $7.1 million per year).
- When fires are near water, scoopers can drop more water than airtankers can drop retardant.
- At least two-thirds of historical fires have been within ten miles of a scooper-accessible body of water, and about 80 percent have been within five miles of a helicopter-accessible body of water.
- Airtankers have a niche role in fighting wildfires that are not proximate to scooper- or helicopter-accessible water sources.
Climate Change and the Effects of Neglect
The ignition and growth of fires depend quite strongly on weather; thus, climate change can be expected to have a considerable impact on forest fire activity… the Canadian Climate Centre GCM scenarios suggest an increase in fire occurrence of 25% by 2030 and 75% by the end of the 21st century.
Currently, as much through designed neglect as benign neglect, the national forests have been allowed to change from productive forests to fire prone, insect infested and disease-wracked lands of declining value to the public. This condition is caused, in part, by lack of clear management direction for these lands, lack of human and financial resources to protect and manage these lands, and lack of public understanding of the importance of effectively managed forests.
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