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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wildfires Ignite Debate Over Aerial Firefighting

Tens of thousands of Americans on the hot East Coast and Midwest are celebrating the Fourth without electricity, and millions are celebrating without fireworks.

In drought-stricken states like Tennessee and Florida, officials have either canceled fireworks displays or are urging people not to set off their own fireworks because of concerns about embers igniting dry grasses.

Across the country, 45 large wildfires are still burning. This year the governor of Colorado banned private fireworks in the state, where the huge Waldo Canyon fire is now 70 percent contained. In Utah the threat of fire is so high that officials have asked gun owners to scale back sport shooting because some wildfires there have been set off by sparks from bullets hitting rocks.

Wildfires this year have burned more more than 2-million acres of land so far, and stretched firefighting resources so thin that ageing military C-130 planes with special firefighting equipment installed on them had to be brought in because the forest service doesn’t own any heavy air tankers to fight wildfires.

Bill Gabbert, who writes the blog Wildfire Today, says the current system for fighting fires is “contractor owned & operated.” He thinks instead it should be “government-owned and contractor-operated” but changing the system could cost billions of dollars.

Guest:

  • Bill Gabbert, veteran federal firefighter who writes the blog Wildfire Today

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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