Half Of Firefighters' Requests For Air Tankers Last Year Went Unfilled

Mar 1, 2013

An air tanker sits on the tarmac of the Boise airport in June 2012. The U.S. government borrowed the Canadian plane and crew to help fight wildfires.
Credit Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise has released aviation figures for the 2012 fire season.  The numbers show that about half of the calls for air tankers to assist in fighting wildfires last summer went unfilled.

Of the nearly 850 air tanker requests made by fire managers last summer that weren’t later canceled, 52 percent went unfilled.  That figure 10 years ago was 32 percent.  In 2000, just nine percent of requests for tankers weren't filled.

The numbers reflect the depletion of the nation’s aging air tanker fleet.  The number of fire-fighting planes available went from 43 in 2000 to just nine last year.

Also of note, the number of helicopter requests last year was at roughly the same level as 10 years ago.  Last summer, federal officials touted the increased availability of helicopters as a means of softening the blow of having fewer air tankers.

Critics say the lack of air tankers – which are used to control fires in their early stages – has led to more so-called 'megafires'.

On the Web: 

2012 NIFC report

Previous NIFC reports