Air tankers ready to battle blazes |

Air tankers ready to battle blazes

Two air tankers and a spotter airplane are once again stationed at the Grass Valley Air Attack Base, operated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and ready to respond to a large fire.

The three planes will remain at the local base until the end of fire season which is usually the end of October or early November, CDF Battalion Chief Ken Hughes said.

“Experts are predicting that the fire severity this year is at least as critical as the last couple of years,” Hughes said. “Our greatest use of these air tankers is a quick response to stop or slow down the forward spread of wildland fires ” and give firefighters on the ground a fighting chance.”

The airplanes, which went into operation June 16, the normal date, include two Grumman S-2T air tankers and one North American OV-10 spotter plane.

The planes approach fires at a maximum of 250 mph and maneuver around the fires at about 120 mph, Hughes said. The tankers carry 1,200 gallons of retardent, a combination of soap, fertilizer and water that blankets fires.

The tankers are a sign of relief for many in Nevada County since the U.S. Forest Service suspended private contracts for 33 aging four-engine tankers several months ago. The suspensions were made after a study showed the average age of those tankers was 48 years, with some older than 60. The National Transportation Safety Board had studied three air tanker accidents in the past decade in which wings came off of the planes in flight.

None of those 33 airplanes were stationed directly in Nevada County, but if a large fire were to break out, they would have been called out from Chico, Redding, Fresno and Chester, where they were located.

Hughes said the three CDF airplanes are in good condition and were serviced over the winter months, when they were kept at company aviation headquarters at McClellan, the former Air Force base near Sacramento.

“CDF has an exceptional training and maintenance program for their aircraft,” he said. “They exceed (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has 13 air attack bases in the state. The local air tankers and spotter plane also serve Yuba, Placer, Sierra, El Dorado counties, and parts of Plumas and Butte counties.

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