...But For Southwest States, Too Little Too Late

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For the Southwest, the fire season is already peaking and will likely be over before any of the big tankers fly again. "The replacement planes and helicopters won't be enough," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) last week. "We must get these air tankers back in service." The Southwest fire season usually ends when rains arrive in early July. The tankers are fast and can haul big loads of retardant, which can make a critical difference in the early stages of fighting a fire. The helicopters and single-engine craft "won't do the same job as the air tankers," said Jerry Williams, the Forest Service's national director of fire and aviation management. But helicopters have more flexibility and can make more frequent reloading trips to nearby water sources than can tankers, he said. Williams said it was possible the larger tankers could be recertified for use. "They may," he said. "It's a little early to tell." The Air Force Reserve sent two C-130s to Mesa, Ariz., late last month to help out. "We definitely don't know how long this could last," said Brig. Gen. Richard Moss, 302nd Airlift Wing commander. "They're working on a back-up [plan] but until that time, we're there if they need us."