Los Alamos Fire Fueled By US Protectionism

by Gazeta.Ru, 16 May 2000


In the early hours of Friday 12th May, the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS) received an urgent request from the head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Kay Goss to send two Russian IL – 76 Waterbomer fire-fighter planes to assist extinguish the fires raging in the region of Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Russian fire-fighting crews immediately set about preparing for the trans-Atlantic flight and the task at hand. However, the next day, literally minutes before the Waterbombers were due to take off, the MChS received a telegram from FEMA saying that the IL-76 and their crew were no longer needed as US fire fighters were in control of the situation.

However, on Monday 15th evening, American firefighters were quoted by CNN as saying, " It could be weeks before the blaze is extinguished." Over 230 homes have been destroyed and the Los Alamos nuclear research centre was forced to close as the fire reached within 250 metres of the centre and insurance companies predict it will cost billions of dollars to repair the damages.

Due to the vast forests and hot dry summers, forest fires are a common occurrence in Russia. The IL-76 Waterbomber has proved to be a highly effective firefighting plane, so much so that the Greek, Israeli and Turkish authorities have concluded contracts with the MChS to provide firefigting planes and crews when required. In the summer of 1999, IL-76 quickly extinguished serious fires in Greece.

Gazeta.Ru has been informed that firefigthing experts in America have recommended that the US Forest Service either acquire some IL-76 s or conclude a contract for the provision of their services. In his letter below, (April 2nd 2000), the Chief Administrator of Global Emergency Response and fire fighting expert Tom Robinson details the reasons why experts have recommended the IL-76, and the negative response from officials in Washington.

As Chief Administrator, Global Emergency Response, and a fire professional in the United States, I have become very frustrated and angry with some of my government agencies. The U.S. Forest Services knows how superior the IL-76 Waterbomber is to ANY air tanker now in U.S. service. THAT IS THE PROBLEM! We have performed tests of the IL-76 in England, Australia and Moscow for the USFS officials. In each case the spokesmen were astounded by the results. We even have some of them on BBC news video, stating how great the plane is. When they returned to Washington, however, they were told NOT to say anything good about the aircraft because it might put private U.S. air tanker operators out of business. WHO CARES! The USFS has only 36 old, mostly WWII vintage tankers under annual contract for firefighting. Most of these flying relicts have 1/5th to 1/10th the capacity and effectiveness of an IL-76. They are, however, receiving almost as much per hour as an IL-76 would cost. I would love to share some of the recent news articles from around the world concerning the effectiveness of the IL-76 and its crew.

Each time we have an opportunity to use one in the U.S., the USFS makes up lies about the plane and ridicules it as completely useless. USFS spokesmen have been quoted as saying the plane is too big, destroys homes and kills or injures firefighters on the ground. We have been fighting these lies for over five years. I flew on the IL-76 missions in Greece last year and know, firsthand, how good these planes really are. I am now working with the World Bank and the UN, trying to convince those organizations to underwrite the cost of stationing a few of the IL-76s in fire-prone nations of the world for one fire season as a test of their value to the environment.

The USFS has even gone so far as to intervene in the internal firefighting decisions of other nations. In Indonesia and Mexico, for example, both countries were prepared to enter into a contract with us to use EMERCOM IL-76s to stop their deadly forest fires. When the USFS heard about this they convinced both nations that, if they agreed to us U.S. planes instead of Russian IL-76s, the American taxpayers would pay to put the fires out and the USFS would supply all of the equipment. They were condemned by several sources because of their underhanded tactics. In Mexico, 60 firefighters died because the USFS planes were incapable of doing the job. The American public, however, never hears about these things. Maybe you can assist us in getting other international media sources to investigate this problem.

Thanks again for your interest and support.

Tom Lawrence-Jones, staff writer


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