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Why Aren’t California Wildfires Fought With Best Technologies?

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Flames from the KNP Complex burn a hillside above the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP File)
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In Sunday’s edition of “60 Minutes,” the CBS News program raised troubling questions about California’s wildfire fighting efforts.

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy told 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker that the U.S. Forest Service is failing to fully utilize repurposed Chinook helicopters that can squelch wildfires at night with precision accuracy.

The highly respected Fennessy also said that bureaucratic disputes among firefighting agencies are raising costs and endangering lives, structures, and forests.

Valley Congressmen Urge Use of New Tech

The show aired as California endures another wildfire season intensified by climate change. These blazes are exhausting firefighters and straining resources. According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, 7,618 wildfires have burned more than 2.4 million acres this year.

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy questions how California wildfires are fought. (OCFA)

Reps. David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Jim Costa (D-Fresno) also are urging the Forest Service to embrace new aerial technologies. Among the resources they want to be deployed are Containerized Aerial Firefighting Systems.

In a speech on the House floor on Thursday, Sept. 23, Valadao said, the systems such as CAFFS “provide ground crews with dependable cover from the air by providing a rapid surge of retardant to attack fires from more than one point of contact.”

Valadao’s speech came amid the KNP Complex and Windy Fires, which have burned nearly 1360,000 acres with scant containment. Those fires are threatening historic sequoias and Tulare County communities and have closed Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. Containment of the fires is weeks away.

Valadao went on to say that as “California faces several devastating wildfires burning thorough our communities and beloved forest land, I ask my colleagues and the U.S. Forest Service to consider investing in (CAFFS) and other technologies and resources.”

In April, Costa and Valadao wrote an op-ed together in which they said:

“As we prepare for the 2021 wildfire year and welcome a new president, we urge the USFS under the new Biden Administration to examine the latest aerial firefighting capabilities coupled with additional resources to protect our state and communities. It will provide our crews and communities with more resources and tools to protect communities and put out fires more swiftly.”

60 Minutes Report Is Eye-Opening

If you missed the 60 Minutes’ segment on California wildfires, it’s well worth your time (and enduring the commercials between the segments on the new technologies and political infighting.)

Watch: Taking the Fight to the Night

Watch: Rep. Valadao Urges House To Invest in Wildfire Fighting Technologies

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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