On October 1st the National Interagency Fire Council (NIFC) reduced the National Situation Report from daily to weekly.
On that same day the National Preparedness level was reduced to level one, the lowest possible threat value. Both of these actions are indications that the 2017 fire season is over however I have always used the reduction in Situation Reports as a yardstick to determine the official end to fire season.
Not only was it the most intense and busiest season that I ever experienced it was also the most expensive by a wide margin for the federal government and many affected states. By the end of September the record for federal expenditures for wildfire suppression was shattered with over two billion dollars spent.
This is about double what is normally spent and then in early October the devastating California fires hit and another one billion dollars were spent in that state alone. Nearly nine million acres burned versus about six million acres for the ten year average.
New Exclusive Use SEAT contracts will have to be issued this winter and I certainly hope that a little common sense is injected into the bidding process so we can avoid the fiasco experienced last Spring.
The government tried to pit vendors against each other in what boiled down to a bidding and the result was they wound up spending much more than expected when their ill devised plan collapsed on itself. Hopefully they learned a lesson and a fair and level process will come out of it.
Starting in the 2018 fire season the entire fleet of federal contracted firefighting aircraft will run on jet-fuel. Neptune Aviations Lockheed P-2V airtankers were retired as their contracts expired this year.
A retirement ceremony was held at their Missoula, Montana headquarters on October 1st. Less than a week after the ceremony two of them T-05 and T-14 were pressed back into service to assist with the fires in Northern California. This marks the end of an era and I thank you for your service ladies and gentlemen. As ADS-B equipment is installed in more and more aircraft it has become a helpful tool in the aerial firefighting business. On large fires or in smoky conditions it makes it so easy to determine the position of other aircraft.
Situational awareness is improved leading to a safer environment in the fire traffic area. By 2020 it will be required in all aircraft utilizing the national airspace system. In August hundreds of fires burning across the Western U. S. and Canada were putting up so much smoke that visibility was reduced to less than VFR conditions across vast areas.
In these dangerous conditions the aircraft dispatches continued to come through. If one flight crew turned down an order dispatch would just continue fishing around until they found a crew that would accept it. This is wrong. Pilots are taught that safety is first yet the government does not hesitate to ask us to fly in unsafe conditions.
I believe that if one crew turns down a mission because of risk involved dispatch should put every thing on hold until conditions improve. During this period I turned down or aborted several missions. About a week after conditions did improve the DOI put out a Safety Memo that basically said we should not fly in bad smoke.
Off season training season is here. Participate in the programs and bring something with you to add to it. Enjoy the Holidays and I hope to see you in the mountains one day.