Report: Feds need more air tankers to fight wildfires - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Report: Feds need more air tankers to fight wildfires

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

It's a problem that keeps getting worse, and it could put Arizona communities at risk.

A new report on wildland fire management by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates that the U.S. Forest Service is facing a major air tanker shortage, and its having a major impact on how fire crews battle blazes. [Related: Read the full GAO report (PDF)]

The report states that the large air tanker fleet has dropped from 44 in 2002 to only 8 in 2013.

Dolores Garcia is a fire mitigation specialist, with the US. Bureau of Land Management.

She said that with the small number of federal air tankers in service, states like Arizona often have to fight with other states for the planes to come help.

"We utilize them just as much as we would boots on the ground," said Garcia. "They are there to support our resources on the ground, and often times get into areas that we would probably not put people into."

The report recommends that the feds update the entire air tanker fleet with more modern planes.

It also blames red tape and bureaucracy for delays in getting a new fleet.

And sights a lack of government planning and oversight as part of the problem.

Sen. John McCain(R- Arizona) and Sen. Jeff Flake(R - Arizona) released this statement Tuesday:

"The last thing we need is to study this issue indefinitely. Americans deserve better than to hear that more research is needed while wildfires destroy their homes and firefighters risk their lives. Federal agencies need to implement options that improve our wildfire fighting capabilities immediately."

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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