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Score One for the Scooper : The newly leased craft plays a key role in quelling City of Industry fire

November 13, 1994

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors made an eminently wise decision recently to lease two amphibious "Super Scooper" aircraft. Yet for a time this fire season it looked as if the planes might lack fires to combat, ultimately giving skeptics an opportunity to brand the county experiment a failure and a waste.

However, few who saw the Canadair CL-215 in action last Monday against a fast-moving brush fire would agree with such a charge: A load of water and a load of foam dumped from the craft stopped flames that were bearing down on several homes in the City of Industry.

Beginner's luck? Not by a long shot. The Canadian-built craft have been used in California with success before. In 1970, the planes--which can pick up 1,600 gallons of water on the fly--were enlisted to fight fires in Berkeley and Malibu. Nearly a decade later the Los Angeles County Fire Department tested the Scooper, using it to help knock down a huge blaze in Laurel Canyon.

Despite those successes and a clear need for better equipment during infernos in the Berkeley hills in 1991 and in Altadena, Laguna and Malibu in 1993, Gov. Pete Wilson refused to sign legislation that allocated state funds to buy or lease Super Scoopers. What's more, the state Forestry Department traditionally has resisted expensive equipment out of fear that the outlays would result in cuts in its budget.

Los Angeles County, helped by insurers, had the good sense to put up $719,000 for mechanics and two crews rather than wait for state action. The county and the insurers will also pay $500 for each hour the CL-215s are in flight. Surely that's a decision that the threatened residents of Industry were thankful for last Monday.

What's needed now is a lasting commitment by government for the sake of communities in Southern California and the entire West. Gov. Wilson should take the initiative, not only by proposing funding to lease firefighting aircraft but also by exploring the possibility of sharing the planes in a Super Scooper force for the western United States.

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