Forest Service Axes 30-Year Ban on Night Flights

Rule blamed in disastrous 2009 Station fire
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2012 11:59 AM CDT
Forest Service Axes 30-Year Ban on Night Flights
This Aug. 31, 2009 file photo shows the Station Fire burning on the hillsides of the Tujunga area of Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/John Lazar, file)

California's disastrous 2009 Station fire made wildfire authorities rethink their approach to battling blazes at night—and now they're uplifting a longstanding rule. For the first time in about three decades, the US Forest Service will allow night flights to combat flames, the Los Angeles Times reports. "We have studied night operations from every angle—risk management, business and operations—and we have concluded we can conduct night operations safely and effectively," says the agency's boss.

Critics of the ban, which was instituted over safety and expense concerns, say that dispatching helicopters could have halted the southern California Station fire early on; instead, two firefighters were killed in the flames. Night flights "can bolster firefighting efforts because temperatures are cooler, humidity is higher and Santa Ana winds die down," argued Sen. Feinstein who, alone with other California politicians, had called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate the issue. Its report, issued in December, called on the Forest Service to reassess its night-flight policies. The $2 million program will begin next year. (More Station fire stories.)

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