LOS ANGELES – As wildfires were charging across Southern California, nearly two dozen water-dropping helicopters and two massive cargo planes sat idly by, grounded by government rules and bureaucracy.
It took as long as a day for Navy, Marine and California National Guard helicopters to get clearance early this week, in part because state rules require all firefighting choppers to be accompanied by state forestry “fire spotters” who coordinate water or retardant drops. By the time those spotters arrived, the powerful Santa Ana winds stoking the fires had made it too dangerous to fly.
“The weight of bureaucracy kept these planes from flying, not the heavy winds,” Republican U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told The Associated Press. “When you look at what’s happened, it’s disgusting, inexcusable foot-dragging that’s put tens of thousands of people in danger.”
The spotters have 24 hours to report for duty, and it took nearly all that time for them and the National Guard crews to assemble.