The fire didn’t care what kind of federal land it was burning, but for helicopter pilots hovering over a blaze in northwestern Nevada last week, it made all the difference: If it was Bureau of Land Management property, they could legally drop the water they were carrying, but if it was Forest Service land, they were out of luck.
Unable to make a clear call, the Washoe County chopper pilot demurred and didn’t drop the 323 gallons of water in the tank.
Local fire officials said the helicopter’s help would have been valuable in fighting the Pinehaven wildfire, which burned more than 200 acres near Reno and which investigators said likely was the work of an arsonist.
Now, the tangle of federal rules that left the chopper in limbo has some lawmakers questioning when regulations became more important than fighting fires.
“We’re approved for fighting fires on [Bureau of Land Management] lands and Washoe County private lands. However, we are not yet approved for dropping water on Forest Service land fires,” said Deputy Doug Russell, chief pilot for Washoe County’s Sheriff’s Office. “Because we didn’t know the exact jurisdiction of property at that moment, we did not drop water.”
The problem is the helicopter is credentialed by one federal agency — the Bureau of Land Management — but has yet to get the OK from the Forest Service.