U.S. Forest Service reviews no-night-flying rule

Staff And Wire Reports

The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing its practice of not flying firefighting helicopters at night, in an apparent response to criticism of how the agency handled the early hours of the huge Station fire.

At the urging of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Board of Supervisors last week called on the federal government to authorize deployment of water-dropping choppers after dark to battle fires in the Angeles National Forest, where the Station blaze began to spread on its first night. The Forest Service has long considered night flying too risky for pilots.

Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management Director Tom Harbour told the Associated Press on Monday that, “We are in the process . . . of one more time taking a look at night-flying operations. But we will have to make sure that those operations, before we change our policy, are worth the benefits.”

The review is “welcome news,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who has blasted the Forest Service for not mounting a more aggressive air assault on the Station fire.

The Station blaze killed two county firefighters, burned 250 square miles of the forest, destroyed nearly 100 dwellings and cost about $90 million.