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Western senators warn of jet fuel shortages hampering wildfire fight

By: - August 10, 2021 11:54 am

Western U.S. senators are asking the Biden administration for help with a shortage of jet fuel that is hampering efforts to use aircraft to fight wildfires.(Photo by Roger Ottmar/USDA Forest Service)

WASHINGTON — Bipartisan U.S. senators from the West are urging the Biden administration to coordinate across agencies to help Western states with shortages of fuel that are preventing firefighters from using aircraft to fight wildfires.

“We are concerned that fuel shortages could lead to the grounding of federal, state, and contracted aircrafts and hurt the ability for initial fire attack and further devastate communities near the growing number of wildfires,” Idaho Republican Sens. James Risch and Mike Crapo, along with Democratic senators from California, Oregon and Washington, wrote in a letter to four Cabinet secretaries.

The shortage in fuel is due to several issues, one being a shortage of truck drivers for transportation. In addition, due to high temperatures, oil refineries, for safety reasons, cannot operate at full capacity. 

The letter was addressed to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“In 2021, there are already over 108 large fires burning in 15 states and the need for an aerial response to fight these fires is a critical and much-needed tool,” they continued.

The senators also laid out several questions for the secretaries to address, such as what current federal plans are in place to address fuel shortages for aerial firefighting strategies. They asked for the Cabinet secretaries to respond by Aug. 23.

“The importance of a strategic and integrated approach to tackle wildfire is essential, and we urge your continued partnerships and coordination with state and local firefighting response units,” they said. “We also urge strong coordination with the White House for the duration of the wildfire season to ensure prompt access to the needed resources when they are available.”

President Joe Biden met with governors from Western states in late July to discuss how the federal government could best aid states battling wildfires.

Fires have burned more than 2.3 million acres of land, according to the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center, a government agency that serves as a support center for wildland fires and other emergency situations.

Affected states include Idaho, Montana, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Wyoming, California, Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska and Minnesota.

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana Figueroa covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance. Before joining States Newsroom, Ariana covered public health and chemical policy on Capitol Hill for E&E News. As a Florida native, she's worked for the Miami Herald and her hometown paper, the Tampa Bay Times. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Tribune and NPR. She is a graduate of the University of Florida.