Fire flights |

Fire flights

As the north winds blew in Tuesday, two air tankers arrived at the Nevada County Airport for fire season and within moments were dispatched to a blaze in El Dorado County.

It would be the first of several fires that the Grass Valley Air Attack Base on Loma Rica Drive would help fight on Tuesday. In addition to dispatching its planes to the fires, four other tankers were serviced here while fighting fires near Oroville and in Placer County.

“We’re reloading (with flame retardant) six tankers today,” said Ken Hughes, commander of the Grass Valley unit. “It’s a happening first day.”

Hughes said that due to a forecast of northerly winds this week and the dry conditions, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection decided to send the air tankers to their respective bases one week earlier than originally planned.

“The potential for fires has started earlier than usual this year,” he said.

That was certainly the case Tuesday.

Hughes sent two tankers in the morning to El Dorado Hills to fight a 10-acre fire. As the day went on, the firefighting efforts extended to Oroville, where 1,600 acres were burning south of the town. The fire was 50 percent contained late Tuesday.

The six tankers also fought two separate fires near Newcastle in Placer County.

Hughes said the state’s 23 contracted air tankers are usually stationed at 13 air attack stations from June 15 to Oct. 15, although that has already been subject to change this year due to the dry and windy conditions.

“Because of the anticipated north winds, they decided to bring the planes up early,” Hughes said. “We also have very low fuel moisture for this time of year, which is why all burning is suspended for now.”

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