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WASHINGTON - Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, led a bipartisan group of colleagues Friday in requesting funding to modernize firefighting assets so the U.S. Forest Service can more effectively respond in a cost-effective manner to devastating wildfires.

The senators, in letters to Senate Committee on Appropriations leadership and the U.S. Forest Service, highlighted the need for a modern, highly capable large air tanker and water-scooper fleet — proven to be one of the most effective immediate responses to limit the expansion of wildfires into uncontrollable mega-fires.

They said the available aircraft flying this mission today continue to be retired ex-military/ex-civil aircraft, repurposed for air tanker operations and flown by small private contract firms. 

“The intensity and duration of the past successive fire seasons confirm the reality that the wildfire suppression workload has grown in severity and complexity due to hotter, longer burning seasons and the expanding wildland-urban interface,” the lawmakers wrote. “These factors will only worsen future wildfire disasters, so it is time that Congress and the executive branch proactively upgrade firefighting assets in order to protect the lives and property in communities facing these massive wildfires.”

In March, Congress passed into law a long-term, bipartisan funding solution led by Wyden and Crapo to stabilize the Forest Service budget. The fire fix, taking effect in 2020, ends the backwards practice of “fire borrowing,” allowing the agency to restart many of the fire prevention projects delayed by uncertain funding from longer, hotter fire years.

To ensure the Forest Service can most effectively fight wildfires now, Congress must also immediately act to invest in modern firefighting assets, the senators said.

Wyden and Crapo were joined by Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Cory Gardner, R-C.O., and Michael Bennet, D-C.O., in sending the letters.

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