Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
Aircraft that could have helped to fight the Californian wildfires were grounded because of bureaucracy, it was claimed yesterday.
Politicians in San Diego, which suffered some of the worst devastation, criticised state officials for the red tape that kept 24 water-dropping helicopters and two cargo planes grounded.
It took a whole day for the Navy, Marine and California National Guard helicopters to get clearance to take off because of rules requiring all firefighting helicopters to be accompanied by state "fire spotters''.
By this time, the winds fuelling the fires had made it too dangerous to fly.
The spotter rule was eventually waived altogether on Wednesday, three days after the first fires broke out, when the area burned had more than quadrupled.
"When you look at what's happened, it's disgusting, inexcusable foot-dragging that's put tens of thousands of people in danger,'' said Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California.
Aided by cooling temperatures, firemen were last night finally gaining control of all but the most stubborn pockets of the wildfires, which have killed at least nine people and forced more than a million from their homes this week.
The National Guard's two C130 cargo planes -- among the most powerful aerial firefighting tools -- could not join the fight because they were still awaiting the giant tanks needed to carry gallons of fire retardant, despite a promise made four years ago by Congress following a review of firefighting strategy.
Elton Gallegly, a Republican representative, described the delay, which has left the West Coast without any C130s capable of fighting fires, as ``an absolute tragedy, an unacceptable tragedy''. (©The Daily Telegraph, London)