August 8, 2000

LEADING AUSTRALIAN ENVIRONMENTALIST SLAMS U.S. FOREST AUTHORITIES

With the United States facing some of the worst forest fires in its history, leading Australian environment group Planet Ark believes that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is being irresponsible in not trying out the Russian made Ilyushin-76TD (Il-76) water bomber.

It has a unique firefighting capacity that is being denied to firefighters on the ground. "As the son of a former firefighter, I believe that the USFS is putting the lives of firefighters and civilians at risk by not trying out the best firefighting plane currently available", said Jon Dee, the Founder of Planet Ark and one of Australia's leading environmentalists.

"The Ilyushin Il-76 plane is undeniably the most powerful waterbomber of its kind, yet it is sitting idly by as America burns," he said. According to the consortium promoting the plane in the USA, two Ilyushin Il-76 waterbombers are standing by in Moscow, ready for immediate deployment to the U.S., as soon as an official request is received. "Planet Ark believes it's time that such a request is forthcoming," said Dee. According to MSNBC, a single Ilyushin IL-76 tanker can drop 11,000 gallons of water in one trip - about four times as much as the largest tanker in the U.S. arsenal, the C-130 Hercules.

To boost their load capacity, the California Forestry Department recently contracted a 1940s Martin Mars tanker from Canada to fight its wildfires.  One of only two Mars planes left in the world, the old Hawaii Mars holds 7,200 gallons (27,276 litres) of water, but this is only about two thirds the capacity of the Ilyushin Il-76's 11,000 gallon maximum.

Planet Ark is one of Australia's biggest environmental organisations. "We believe that the relevant US authorities are not acting in a manner appropriate to the seriousness of the current situation," said Dee. "Action is needed in bringing this plane to America in order to protect the environment and American lives."

USFS figures show that over 4 million acres have burned so far this year, including 68,236 acres on Monday - almost double the 10 year average. According to the ENS, the  Interagency Fire Center have said that the fires are costing $11.6 million a day to fight. The Russian owned planes are apparently being offered to the U.S. Forest Service at cost - the consortium behind the plane are asking only that their fuel and accommodation costs be reimbursed.

ENDS

Jon Dee is available for media quotes on this matter should they be required. For further information, please contact Jon Dee via the following:

Office: 61 (2) 9319 5288
Mobile:  (61) 414 971 900
E-mail:  jondee@planetark.org