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Sen. John McCain, other senators request aircraft to suppress wildfires

PHOENIX — On Monday, Sen. John McCain, along with five other senators, wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to request a transfer of C-27J Spartan aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service in order to suppress wildfires.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) also contributed to this letter.

In the letter, the senators wrote:

We are deeply concerned that the Forest Service’s wildfire air tanker fleet is stretched alarmingly thin and urgently needs to be recapitalized. According to press reports, there were about 914 requests to deploy air tankers at various wildfires in 2012 but about half of those requests were denied as “unable to fill” because of fierce competition for a shortage of air assets. To help address this shortfall, the Forest Service has proposed acquiring the C-27J as a 21st century platform capable of multiple wildland-fire missions including smokejumper and cargo delivery, fire crew transport, and aerial application of fire retardant.

The senators also wrote that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s request to transfer 14 of the C-27J aircraft for the use of the United States Coast Guard would be a violation of Section 1091 of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The senators closed the letter by saying:

We would appreciate knowing what steps you are taking to prepare the C-27J for transfer and request to be immediately notified when a plan is near implementation. We would also appreciate a reply explaining your interpretation of Section 1091 in light of the request by Secretary Napolitano.