CAL FIRE air base was closed

May 22, 2008 8:32:55 PM PDT
Throughout the day on Thursday CAL FIRE launched an aggressive air attack to fight the summit fire. However, the nearest CAL FIRE air base in Hollister, was not open this morning when the fire broke out, and the initial air attack had to come from Santa Rosa, 140 miles away. By Thursday evening, the Hollister base opened.

The Hollister CAL FIRE air base was open, fully staffed and ready to reload takers with water if necessary at 9 a.m. Thursday morning. They took until 12:30 p.m. to be ready with the fire suppressant jell. Still, the battalion chief insists that delay in having the fire jell ready hasn't made any difference in fighting this very difficult fire.

CAL FIRE tankers land at the Hollister base to re-load fire suppressant gel. The gooey red stuff is mixed at the base and pumped into the planes 1,200 gallons at a time, to be dropped on the flames. The ground crews work like Nascar pit crews to fill the planes. They knew speed matters.

"It takes approximately three to four minutes to load one of these airplanes," said Gordon Springell from Phos-Chek.

The S-2T tankers can fly at speeds up to 270 miles per hour. There are normally two planes stationed at the Hollister base during the summer months, between June and October. Two other bases were chosen to open early because fire conditions were worse by those locations.

"Hollister was not open because the conditions of the bay. Normally the humidity is a little bit higher. The conditions just don't burn as much, but as soon as this fire did pickup, we opened Hollister immediately. It is now open for reloading," said Daniel Berlant a CAL FIRE Information Officer.

Battalion Chief Mark Edria says even if this base had opened early, it wouldn't have made a difference on Thursday.

"Normally the tankers don't come on until 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. The aircraft wouldn't have been available, pilots wouldn't have been available. And with this type of wind, and the lower fuel moistures, many times Mother Nature has her way," said Chief Edria.

Edria says the pilots don't start until mid-morning because they're only allowed to fly seven-hours straight. A mid-morning start means taking advantage of the best daylight hours. On Thursday the wind was an obstacle for the pilots.

"Many times, especially in timber the heavy fuel such as it is up there near the summit, they can be ineffective if the winds again hamper their drops. And with this wind, it's brutal," said Chief Edria.

So the Hollister base is now in full fire-fighting mode. It has it's full staff and its full compliment of equipment and materials.


Load Comments