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Napa Board of Supervisors should consider firefighting aircraft

Napa Board of Supervisors should consider firefighting aircraft

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Given the devastating impacts of last year’s wildfire season on Napa County, it’s difficult to understand why the Board of Supervisors is not rallying around the proposal put forth by the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture to fund two Rapid Response Aircraft (RRA), aka the Fire Boss, to provide an immediate response to the next wildfire.

The planes will not be added to the county’s firefighting assets without the Board of Supervisors making a formal request to CalFire to add them to their existing contract or its upcoming renewal in July.

I can only conclude that the board still has questions and concerns about the Fire Boss and its operation and hope that they would put those questions before the proponents of the project and other experts in the field before drawing any conclusions. But, this needs to be acted upon now. Wildfire season will soon be upon us again. And given the drought, erratic weather patterns due to climate change and the alarming lack of soil moisture, it could be every bit as bad as last year’s.

Napa County Fire Chief Belyea and Tri-County Fire Chief Jones have also expressed concerns, seeming to be more in favor of using helicopters to fight wildfires. But people should understand that implementing the Fire Boss proposal does not create an “either or” situation. Rather, it is a valuable addition to the tools we’ll have available. Why not have both and increase our overall protection?

Additionally, the Fire Boss will be based in Napa County and it will be ready to work a wildfire the minute it is legal to fly. And unlike helicopters provided by CalFire, they can be called away at a moment’s notice. These planes will always be here in the County and readily available.

To date the Board seems reluctant to accept public testimony about the RRA proposal, and the efficacy of the Fire Boss. Yet, Dauntless Air, based in Minnesota, has been partnering with federal and state wildland agencies to fight wildfires across the U.S. and Canada since 1996. They have made the Fire Boss the cornerstone of their aerial firefighting fleet and own 13 of them.

Closer to home, Air Spray Air Tankers, based in Chico, has been contracting with government agencies to provide critical air tanker and air attack aircraft to aid in the control of wildfires for more than 60 years. To a fleet that includes heavy air tankers such as the Lockheed L188 Electra and the BAE 146 jet aircraft, they have added six Fire Bosses.

I also think we can trust Angwin residents and veteran pilots, Randy Dunn and Mike Hackett, who have studied and investigated the Fire Boss specifically, and have determined that having two on hand during wildfire season is the most effective and reliable means available to try to gain some control of a wildfire during its earliest stages.

The Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture are taking on the task of raising the $1.5 million to cover the cost of the planes while on standby. When the planes are flying, the cost will be borne by CalFire. Even so, the Board of Supervisors seems concerned that there will be additional cost to the county.

Given the estimated $1 billion dollars in losses to the local wine industry, from the Glass Fire alone, in addition to the loss of 308 homes in Napa County and 334 homes in Sonoma County and all the other economic and health impacts we endured, how much would be too much in the board’s eyes?

Whatever additional costs to the county there might be, if any, it pales in comparison to the potential cost of another wildfire and, to my mind, it would be good investment.

The supervisors are right to have questions and concerns. But before making a decision one way or the other, rather than speculate, I hope they will seek expert input from people who actually have experience using the Fire Boss in a wildfire situation and direct their staff to find the answers to any remaining questions. To make a decision before all questions get answered would be negligent on the board’s part.

One of the question’s I’d be asking as supervisor is: if the county fails to seriously consider this proposal, is it opening itself up to possible litigation and liability if there is another wildfire that results in the impacts we experienced this last year? Keep in mind, the destruction from the Tubbs, Kincade, Hennessey, and Glass Fires extended well beyond our borders.

As a resident and business owner, I think that failing to make an informed decision on this proposal invites a question as to the board’s willingness and ability to make an informed decision for the benefit of the public’s safety, health, and welfare.

Lucio “Cio” Perez

St. Helena

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