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Military weighs using plans earlier in firefighting
Many airplanes used in firefighting are of military origin, but the fleet is aging. Firefighters want easier access to active-duty military aircraft in emergencies.

Military to weigh allowing planes to be used sooner in firefighting

Jan 24, 2013 - The Associated Press

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The general in charge of the military response to civilian emergencies says officials are weighing whether to make it easier to call in military planes to help fight wildfires in Wyoming, Colorado and other states.

The head of the U.S. Northern Command, Army Gen. Charles Jacoby, said Wednesday the option of calling up C-130 cargo planes sooner is under consideration as military and civilian leaders get ready for this year's wildfire season.

The Defense Department has eight C-130s that can be equipped to drop thousands of gallons of retardant on wildfires. Under current rules, they can't be called up unless all the civilian and commercial firefighting aircraft are in use or unavailable.

Last year's devastating wildfires across the West prompted some civilian leaders to question why the C-130s weren't activated sooner.

Planes stationed in Cheyenne were pressed into duty several times last year, but the deployment process was criticized for its slow pace and lack of responsiveness. The military and civilian firefighting bureaucracies were seen as having difficulty communicating with each other, leading to delays in sending the planes where they were needed.

Many aircraft used in firefighting once were military planes, but the military has no authority over them. As those planes have aged, fire managers have press for more-modern aircraft to either be provided solely for firefighting or for firefighters to have quicker, easier access to active-duty military aircraft suited for the task.

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