Firefighting Fleet Grounded for Safety

This summer's wildfire season is fast approaching, and those states most at risk are feeling the heat now that the Federal Aviation Administration (search) has grounded two-thirds of the federal firefighting water-tanker fleet for safety reasons.

"They offer an awesome firefighting capability, and they will be missed," said pilot Jimmy Barnes of the California Department of Forestry about the limited number of federal planes available to fight blazes.

Aerial firefighting (search) has become the primary weapon in stopping brush and forest fires. Because of its size and history of devastating blazes, California operates its own fleet of helicopters, scouts and tankers.

Pilots are positioned at predetermined points around the state, within 20 minutes they can be airborne and on top of any fire — working to stop small fires from becoming big ones.

It is a dangerous job. Four planes have gone down in the past three years — their wings gave way under the fatigue and stress of a heavy, liquid cargo.

Lawmakers are looking for alternatives to the blaze-fighting fleet now that there are only nine federal planes available to fight fire in 50 states.

In the meantime, California will rely on its own fleet, while other states scramble to find helicopters and planes that can be safely converted before fire season begins.

Click on the video box above for a complete report from FOX News' William LaJeunesse.