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    Here we go again

    A new fire season is already upon us. It seems like the last one just ended! Texas released most of its firefighting assets around Thanksgiving with the understanding things would probably get busy again in early spring.

    The fires continued through the winter, however, the long nights and short days made them much easier to contain. The long range forecast is for the drought to continue in the southwest with a strengthening La Nina pattern. Mountains across the west have a less than normal snowpack and should expect a longer than average season.
    Due to lawsuits filed against the United States Forest Service regarding the agency’s use of fire retardant, a judge has ruled that about thirty percent of USFS property will be off limits for the use of retardant. This ruling is going to be a great burden to fire managers and flight crews alike.
    Who is going to be responsible for determining where the line on the ground is and what happens when a load is accidentally dropped in the forbidden zone? A portion of the lawsuits are asking where and how much retardant was used in the past.
    There has never been any requirement for this type of information, but I see future contracts requiring recording equipment in the retardant delivery system that notes gallonage and a latitude/longitude.
    A long time icon of the heavy air tanker industry, Aero Union, has closed its doors and let go sixty employees. This follows the cancellation of the company’s contract with the USFS over maintenance issues. Usually television coverage of wildland fires included one of Aero Union’s red and white P-3s making a drop.
    All of the company’s assets will be auctioned off in late February. All of the aircrews were part of the aerial firefighting brotherhood and many were good friends. I wish them all the best of luck for the future.
    New, exclusive-use SEAT contracts will be issued for the upcoming fire season. The variable term contracts that were part of the current cycle have been cancelled due to lawsuits over the selection process. Details of the new contracts are not available at this writing, but should be out soon.
    In 2004, the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Office of Aircraft Services (OAS) was realigned under the National Business Services (NBC) and renamed the Aircraft Management Directorate (AMD).
    This small agency is tasked with oversight of all aircraft and pilots employed by the DOI. The transition was not without its bumps, as mountains of forms had to be reprinted with the new name. Rumors are floating now that the agency is going to be realigned again under the Wildland Fire Coordination Center (WFCC) and its new name will be, you guessed it, Office of Aircraft Services.
    It is the time of year for recurrent training and many of us will be headed to Boise in a few days. Then, it will be on to Sacramento for simulator training. I hope everyone has a safe and prosperous season and maybe I’ll see you in the mountains one day.

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