April 23, 2014

Wildfire fighting bill advances in Unicameral

A bill that would increase resources for fighting wildfires has advanced to the second round in the Nebraska Legislature on a unanimous vote.

An emergency clause was added to the bill, so if given final approval, it would take effect upon the signature of Governor Dave Heineman.

Sen. Al Davis

Sen. Al Davis

Senator Al Davis, of Hyannis, proposes placing air tankers during the height of fire season at airports near Chadron and Valentine.

“The planes that are out there are going to be available for South Dakota to use, Wyoming to use, Colorado to use, if they have a need for them and call for them in a mutual aid relationship,” Davis says. “Of course, when that happens, those states pay their share of the costs. I would hope those planes sit there on the ground and aren’t used at all, but if there is a fire in South Dakota this year and they call for the planes, they will reimburse us for that.”

The measure seeks steps to reduce fire fuel loads, provide expanded training for volunteers and develop an incident management team to help with very large wildfires.

Sen. Lydia Brasch

Sen. Lydia Brasch

Senator Lydia Brasch, of Bancroft says there is a need to reduce the influence of red cedar trees, often a fuel for wildfires.

“If we are not proactive, we will be spending more and more dollars,” Brasch says. “When we come back here next year and the year after, we will have less and less money to work with for foster care and other agencies because we spent it on fires in western and other parts of Nebraska that could have been maintained and prevented.”

Davis said Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters were brought in last year to fight wildfires, at a cost of $100,000 and $200,000 a day.

“What we’re looking at here for these two planes is $432,000 for two planes to sit on the ground for three months,” Davis says. “We’ve got 318,000 allocated for flight costs which, let’s hope we don’t need that.”

2012 was the worst fire year on record in Nebraska with almost a half-million acres burned, 65 structures lost and about $12 million in fire suppression costs.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice