How Obama Bureaucrats Fueled Western Wildfires

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The smell of singed air here is inescapable. Less than 50 miles west of my neighborhood, the latest wildfire has spread across 1,100 acres. It’s the fifth active blaze to erupt in our state over the past month. But ashes aren’t the only things smoldering.

The Obama administration’s neglect of the federal government’s aerial tanker fleet raises acrid questions about its core public safety priorities. Bipartisan complaints goaded the White House into signing a Band-Aid fix last week. But it smacks more of election-year gesture politics: Too little, too late, too fake.

Ten years ago, the feds had a fleet of 44 firefighting planes. Today, the number is down to nine for the entire country. Last summer, Obama’s National Forest Service canceled a key federal contract with Sacramento-based Aero Union just as last season’s wildfires were raging. Aero Union had supplied eight vital air tankers to Washington’s dwindling aerial firefighting fleet. Two weeks later, the company closed down, and 60 employees lost their jobs. Aero Union had been a leader in the business for a half-century.

Why were they grounded? National Forest Service bureaucrats and some media accounts cite “safety” concerns. But as California GOP Rep. Dan Lungren noted in a letter obtained by reporter Audrey Hudson of the conservative D.C. newspaper Human Events last year, a Federal Aviation Administration representative said it was a contractual/compliance matter, not safety, that doomed Aero Union’s fleet.

“I am deeply troubled by the Forest Service’s sudden action,” Lungren warned, “particularly as California enters into the fire season. Our aerial firefighting fleet is already seriously undercapitalized.” Both the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General have been critical of the Forest Service’s handling of the matter. All of this has been known to the Obama administration since it took the reins in 2009.

Nine months after Lungren’s warning, the deadly High Park fire in Larimer County, Colo., claimed a grandmother’s life, destroyed 189 homes and scorched nearly 60,000 acres.

Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and Wyoming also have battled infernos this summer.

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  • Rifleman

    The left must destroy the forests to save them. To them, burned forests are forests that will never be exploited by evil humans, and hundreds of intruding and offending homes or businesses burned to the ground is a bonus.

    This is basically the clinton administration's policy, chucking sound forestry for modern fads, like they did with education. They run the competent out, and replace them with the ideologically reliable. Then we have evidence of endangered species being planted by the surveyors themselves to stop development, not to mention unreliable data. They turn forests into tinderboxes while crippling the ability to fight the resulting fires and then let firefighters burn before they'll pull water from a protected creek to save them.

  • StephenD

    I can almost hear him playing his fiddle in the Oval Office.

    • mlcblog

      Excellent, Stephen D.

  • Sage on the Stage

    Ken Salazar deserves to be prosecuted and jailed, not least for his allowing Pennsylvania's monument to Flight 93 to be designed as a mosque, where visitors face Mecca, with a ring of red trees in their front. However, the plight of the American west doesn't surprise me; and it will likely continue to burn. The National Park Service is a law unto itself, made worse by the socialist traitor in the White House.

  • Cand.Jur.

    Why don't the states established their own firefighting capability? Why don't the western states pool their resources to acquire the necessary fleet of airplanes? When will they learn not to rely on the federal government for anything?

    • intrcptr2

      Probably because the forests are Federal forests, and it is the responsibility of Washington. And anyway, the Federal government has been fighting the fires forever. If that has changed, then it is also up to the White House to inform the states that they are on their own.

      Or had you not noticed how Obama reacts when anyone tries doing his job, even when he isn't?

  • Sage on the Stage

    Ken Salazar should be prosecuted; for allowing Pennsylvania's Flight 93 Memorial to be designed as a mosque, with visitors facing Mecca as they enter the park, in the center of a ring of red trees. So this latest National Park Service abdication of responsibility is no surprise; and the American west will likely burn for some time to come.

  • mrbean

    All the folks in the big cities are stocking up on guns and ammo in the last year of the election. Recent sales of semiautomatic assault rifles have been especially strong because people apparently fear if Obama is not reelected that the blacks will riot in the streets. Not a stretch at all!

  • Realist

    All of you people give me a break!! You want government spending cut (which it was for USFS) and now you complain about lack of aircraft. Maybe you should start blame locally and go up the ladder!!! P.S. I believe the Penn memorial was designed during the previous administration.

  • tagalog

    There is something in me that leaps up for a moment when I read about some interest group putting its "boots on the necks" of federal bureaucrats. Oh, that there actually were people prepared to do that…

  • Amused

    Thought you folks were against " Big Govmint " ?