California ill-equipped to handle wildfires?
LOS ANGELES (AP) — With a vast swath of the West primed for wildfires, federal foresters are preparing for the worst with a budget that might run dry and a fleet of air tankers that in some cases aren’t ready for takeoff.
A combination of extended drought, warming weather and an abundance of withered trees and grasses have created ideal conditions for fire — more than 22 million acres were blackened by wildfires from 2011-2013, primarily across the West.
“It looks like it’s going to be a serious enough season to where we run out of money again,” Tom Harbour, director of fire and aviation management for the U.S. Forest Service, warned in an interview with The Associated Press.
“I’m really concerned, there is no question,” Harbour said. “I think we are going to have a lot of fire.”
The agency is doing what it can to prepare for wildfire season by burning sections of forest in high-risk areas to remove dead or dry vegetation that could fuel a fire. In another step, crews will launch a major forest-thinning project on Lake Tahoe’s north shore.
In no place is the situation more worrisome than in California, where several years of stingy rainfall have turned forests and scrub into matchsticks and tens of thousands of homes are perched along fire-prone areas.
Firefighters battled a blaze in the mountains east of Los Angeles this week, where temperatures neared triple digits. And states from New Mexico through southern Oregon have been left sere by a lack of rain and snow.
But even as fire risk has increased in recent years, the number of large air tankers dropped.
About a decade ago the Forest Service had more than 40 of the big tankers at its disposal — the draft horses of firefighting aircraft that can dump thousands of gallons of flame-snuffing retardant in a single swoop, far more than a helicopter.
According to federal analysts, the fleet hit a low of eight aircraft at one point last year, depleted by age and concerns over the ability of the planes, in some cases flying since the dawn of the Cold War, to stay in the sky.
Man held in deaths of Alaska State Troopers
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A 19-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of two troopers in a remote village, the Alaska State Troopers said Friday.
Nathaniel Lee Kangas is under arrest in the murders of Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich and Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson Thursday in the isolated community of Tanana. Troopers said formal charges against the Tanana man were being prepared by troopers with the state Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals.
A second Tanana man, Arvin Kangas, 58, is charged with assault in connection with a Wednesday incident involving a village public safety officer. Tanana resident Ruby Cruger said she is related to the men, and that the elder Kangas is the father of the teenager.
Cruger said she did not know the details of the shooting, just that it has affected the entire community of 238 people. “They are all shocked,” she said Friday.
Troopers also have released little information.
The two troopers were occasionally featured on the National Geographic Channel show “Alaska State Troopers,” which features multiple troopers patrolling the state’s wild terrain. The troopers were not filming at the time of their deaths. Filming in the fifth season is currently being done with other troopers.
National Geographic said in a statement that it was “incredibly saddened” to learn of the deaths. Spokesman Chris Alpert said the troopers are among the many who are subjected to the daily dangers and vulnerabilities of working in isolated areas of the state, such as Tanana, which is about 130 miles west of Fairbanks.
No roads lead to Tanana, and travel there is mainly by aircraft. Residents lead a largely subsistence lifestyle. The troopers had gone to Tanana to follow up on a report Wednesday night that someone “had brandished a firearm in the village,” troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. Rich and Johnson worked out of the troopers’ Fairbanks rural service unit.
Cruger said the shooting happened about 3 p.m. Thursday at her aunt’s home on Tanana’s Front Street. She said her aunt wasn’t home at the time.
Because of the location of the village, about two miles west of the junction of the Tanana and Yukon rivers, the community was a trading post for Koyukon and Tanana Athabascans long before European contact, according to a state website. Residents continue to live a traditional Athabascan lifestyle, including hunting and fishing for their food.
The deaths came the same day the name of Manokotak village public safety Officer Thomas Madole was added to the Indian Country Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Artesia, New Mexico. Madole was shot and killed March 19, 2013, while responding to a domestic violence call in the Alaska Native village.
Before Thursday, 64 law enforcement officers had been killed in the line of duty since 1897 in Alaska, according to information previously provided by the Alaska State Troopers.