Gov. Dave Heineman supports legislation moving through the Unicameral to prepare Nebraska for the wildfire season, with an exception.
The legislature has advanced LB 634, the Wildfire Control Act of 2013. It has moved the legislation in response to a number of large wildfires that plagued the state last year.
Heineman says the state must prepare to fight wildfires this summer.
“However, it is critical that the state of Nebraska have operational control of those planes,” Heineman tells reporters when asked about the bill. “The way it works in our state to have the proper coordination as you go from your local fire or police department to your local emergency manager to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, those planes need to be under the control of the state of Nebraska so we can coordinate that effort.”
LB 634 currently calls for the Nebraska Forest Service to contract for two water tanker planes to be located at Chadron and Valentine. It also calls for the Forest Service to put into practice a number of forest management practices to reduce the threat of wildfires.
Heineman says the planes must not be placed in the control of either the Nebraska Forest Service or the federal government.
Heineman says the state must have control over the operation of any planes used to fight wildfires.
“Operational control is really critical,” according to Heineman. “In a crisis situation, you have to have a clear chain of command.”
State officials say wildfires that broke out during the drought last year caused the most destruction in state history. The fires chewed up forests along the Niobrara River Valley and elsewhere in northwest and northern Nebraska.