According to a Bush administration official, 20 or more large air tankers could be in the air for this year's Western Slope wildfire season. Agriculture Department Undersecretary Mark Rey says the planes could be in the air as soon as June, if they are safe to fly.
The Forest Service terminated contracts on the planes, whose service for many, dates back to World War II. Several crashed in 2002 caused by wing separation. Last year, eight former submarine chasers were returned to duty after Navy records showed they were safe to fly. The Forest Service has also requested bids for 30 medium and heavy helicopters and 54 single–engine air tankers.
The fire season forecast for the west is not expected until April, but drought maps for January show severe to extreme conditions for much of the west.
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