Federal and state emergency agencies are not seeking assistance in fighting fires burning across California, officials said Monday, responding to a report last week that Russian Federation officials offered their Beriev Be-200 firefighting airplanes.
“We don’t have a need. We don’t have any aircraft orders being unfilled,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton said Monday.
“We have a fleet of over 90 aerial firefighting aircraft at our disposal in Southern California, including the DC-10 and 747, and our incident commanders have had all of their orders filled,” Upton added.
David Baskett, president of Santa Maria-based International Emergency Services (IES), has been working on a plan to build Be-200s in Santa Maria, and said he started receiving phone calls about the Russian offer of aid at about 4 a.m. Friday, including a letter that had been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.
In case the offer was accepted by officials, Baskett set to work Friday reserving hotel rooms and alerting Santa Maria Public Airport leaders of a possible arrival of the Russian firefighting planes.
As of Monday, however, FEMA officials said they had not entered into any talks about assistance with their Russian Federation counterparts -- the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Affairs for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters (EMERCOM).
“No offer has been made to us by EMERCOM. There is a mechanism in place to review and determine whether or not we would accept an offer. That is headquartered in our International Affairs Office. No offer has been made,” said Brandi Richard, FEMA spokeswoman.
Gov. Brown’s office also said that Russian officials have been notified of the process for making international offers of aid.
“They have been advised on what the process is on how to be available in the United States, what steps they need to take through the international route,” said Upton, speaking at the direction of Brown's office.
The Be-200 is a water-scooping firefighting aircraft that has a wingspan of 108 feet, a flight range of 2,051 miles, a top speed of 435 miles per hour and weighs more than 60,000 pounds. It can drop 3,170 gallons of water on a blaze in a few seconds.
The aircraft, which has been used to fight fires all over the world, is also equipped with tanks to drop fire retardant chemicals or a mix of water and the chemicals.
Baskett is working with Russian and U.S. leaders to build and sell Be-200s in Santa Maria. He said the endeavor could bring about 500 new jobs to the city.
He is now working on organizing a training session between EMERCOM and Cal Fire next year, and said a coordinated training session could go a long way to foster future assistance offers.
"With a proposed joint Russian and U.S. agencies training, exercises and testing during coming calmer times, we expect EMERCOM with Be-200s to become an additional 'break the glass in case of fire' preferred provider of wildfire suppression service, until we have our own U.S. fleet of them which is moving ahead," Baskett said Monday.