U.S. Senator: Squabble Over Air Tankers Must Not Compromise Efforts to Fight Wildfires

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A legal dispute has put the fate of a new fleet of air tankers—used at the height of wildfire season—up in the air.

National firefighting contracts were awarded by the U.S. Forest Service May 6, granting deals to air tanker companies in Arizona, California, Nevada and Oregon. But a company out of Montana, Neptune Aviation, is formally protesting the contracts claiming the USFS unfairly discriminated against the Missoula company.

This morning's Missoulian reports that "the dispute could put the contracts in limbo because they won't take effect until the protest is resolved or the U.S. Government Accountability Office grants emergency authority allowing the agreements to take effect."

Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall contacted the USFS on Friday, warning the agency that the contract dispute should not compromise the usage of the tankers in the quickly approaching wildfire season.

“Lives and homes are at stake," wrote Udall. "I refuse to stand idly by as red tape suffocates any chance of the U.S. Forest Service finally acquiring use of the air tankers. Wildfire season is coming, and I refuse to force Colorado communities to watch as preventable and containable wildfires are allowed to threaten lives and homes simply because of contractors’ squabbles."

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