Originally Published: December 10, 2017 6:06 a.m.
This summer, as the Goodwin Fire threatened Mayer, many Arizonans wondered why the world’s largest air tanker wasn’t dumping slurry on it.
This year residents in this area witnessed the Goodwin Fire, which forced some to leave their homes, and we paid close attention to the wildfires in California, that caused so much death and destruction.
And we wondered why the United States Forest Service refused to use what could have been a valuable weapon in fighting those fires, specifically the Global SuperTanker 747.
It made no sense, and that’s not just the editorial board of this newspaper saying it, but also the General Accounting Office.
Last month the GAO upheld a protest against the restriction, telling the Forest Service to reconsider its needs and revise its solicitation accordingly.
The USFS solicited new air tanker services on May 16, 2017. For the first time in air tanker contracting history, they placed a maximum size of retardant tanks, specifying they must be between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons.
Their logic, according to paperwork filed with the GAO in trying to defend that decision, is that most of the work they need these planes for is to put out small wildfires before they become big. Hiring big planes would be a waste of taxpayer money.
The GAO wasn’t buying that in its 22-page decision, saying that the Forest Service’s position was wrong, unreasonable, illogical, or, it did not apply to the issue.
They wrote that the Forest Service, “…failed to provide reasonable justifications for the challenged specification, such that we are unable to conclude that the challenged specification is reasonably necessary for the agency to meet its needs. … We also recommend that the protester be reimbursed the costs of filing and pursuing the protest, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.”
The protester in this case is Global SuperTanker Services, based in Colorado, which was a little upset their large planes could not bid for jobs putting out wildfires.
A Global SuperTanker 747 carries up to 19,200 gallons of retardant and they are currently in use fighting fires in California.
The Forest Service has mismanaged this from the start. Their list of justifications for wanting smaller tankers reads like they threw every excuse they could dream up, which were all found lacking by the GAO.
We still don’t know who the person was that put in the limit and what their true motivation was. In the absence of transparency, doubts will emerge, especially when you’re dealing with large government contracts.
A SuperTanker may not be right for every fire. Its cost may not be justifiable to use on a small blaze. There might be real safety concerns, or technical issues that the average person doesn’t understand. There might be logistical problems, such as those big planes flying in and out of small regional airports.
There could be any number of legitimate reasons why a SuperTanker isn’t right for a fire.
But banning them all outright? Taking that option off the table? That made no sense.
Kudos to the GAO for coming to the right conclusion. A slap on the hand to the Forest Service for not being transparent and making the wrong call in the beginning.
When lives and property are at risk, no one is going to care about which plane is coming to save them. Give our firefighters all the options and let them decide what they need.
This editorial was changed to clarify we were specifically speaking of the Global SuperTank 757. The Very Large Air Tanker DC-10 was used in fighting the Goodwin Fire.