Fire Retardant Air Drops Under Fire

An interesting case is
brewing in California over the use of aircraft deployed fire retardant. It seems
some steelhead trout were killed in the Jesusita Fire in May, 2009, and the
culprit is alleged to be the fire retardant.

What is unusual about the
story isn’t that some fringe environmental group is upset about something that
seems pretty reasonable to most people. That’s not news. What is unusual is who
is complaining: an environmental group of Forest Service employees, known as Forest
Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE).

The Forest Service is one of
the largest firefighting forces in the world, with a hard-nosed tradition that
can match that of any structure fire department.
it’s rather shocking to learn that FSEEE filed notice on December 16, 2009 to sue the California
Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and the Santa Barbara
County Fire Department to enforce the Endangered Species Act (ESA, codified in 7
U.S.C. § 136 and 16 U.S.C. § 1531). Apparently steelhead trout are endangered.

The Jesusita Fire burned 8700
acres and destroyed 80 homes in Santa Barbara County. No too suprisingly, there’s some pretty nasty comments being made about the suit in the Santa Barbara press. Take a
look at a few of the citizen’s posts at the end of this story in the Santa Barbara Independent.

Incidentally, I just
finished reading The Big Burn, by Tomothy Egan, about the horrific Northwest
wildfire of 1910. Egan recounted numerous reports of dead trout after the fire,
even though no one had even contemplated using aircraft to drop fire retardant, nor using fire retardant on wildland fires.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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