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Idaho senators warn of jet fuel shortages hampering wildfire fight

BIA/Colville Agency, BIA
Colville Agency, BIA
A large airtanker makes a water drop on the Summit Trail Fire in Washington. (Courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center)

Shortage in fuel across the West is due to several issues, one being a shortage of truck drivers for transportation

WASHINGTON — Bipartisan U.S. senators from the West, including Idaho Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, 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,” Risch and 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 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.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.