Grounded tankers couldn’t have hurt | NevadaAppeal.com

Grounded tankers couldn’t have hurt

Nevada Appeal editorial board

While the response to the Waterfall fire and the decisions made in the first few minutes and hours are being dissected, we know one thing for sure: two air tankers sat on the ground at the Minden airport while the hillsides burned.

And we have this from a pilot: “If we had two more tankers on Wednesday like we ordered – it’s hard to say, but I’d bet my whole paycheck for the year – we could have held it to at maybe 50 acres or so.”

We’ll never know for sure.

A “heavy” air attack was ordered, and planes were in the air early that morning. Some fire officials have discounted the impact more air support would have had, considering the resources thrown at the fire and the explosiveness at which it spread about 1 p.m. on July 14.

More than $5 million has been spent so far fighting the fire. Millions more will be spent in reconstructing homes and rehabilitating the environment.

So it’s hard not to place some blame on the glacial pace of bureaucracy in the on-again, off-again grounding of aircraft. Why has it taken so long to inspect these aircraft?

We have no quarrel with the need to inspect veteran planes, many of which are nearing 50 years old. No one wanted to endanger the lives of the crew members; the memory of the fatal crash near Walker, Calif., is still chilling.

Yet, it’s been more than two years since that crash. Even though federal and state agencies geared up to replace the grounded aircraft, there is no excuse for two fire seasons to pass before finding out whether these planes can fly safely.

We can’t say for certain at this point whether the tankers in Minden will pass inspection, so again it’s mere speculation the impact they could have had on the Waterfall fire. Perhaps none at all.

But there should be no doubt. Those planes months ago should have been either cleared to help fight fires or listed as no longer safe.

Instead, the residents of Carson City will always wonder if those tankers would have been the difference between a 50-acre fire and one of the worst this city’s ever seen.