Fire Chiefs pressure USFS to reopen Santa Maria air tanker base

Since the Santa Maria air tanker base northwest of Santa Barbara was downgraded by the Los Padres National Forest on March 19, 2009 from a full-time to a Call When Needed base, some fire chiefs in the area have been lobbying the U. S. Forest Service to reverse that decision. We have written about this issue several times, but it is in the news again, as even more fire chiefs have gotten involved. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Santa Barbara Independent:

Chiefs Demand Fire Support

Want Full Service Restored at Santa Maria Air Tanker Base

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Just two days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the fire chiefs of Santa Barbara County let loose the opening shot of what’s been a long-simmering campaign to pressure the U.S. Forest Service to restore “full-service” status to the Santa Maria Air Tanker Base, as opposed to the “call when needed” designation the base has had for the past two years. Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Andy DiMizio — accompanied by Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace and Operations Chief Terry McElwee — showed up at Santa Barbara City Hall to ask the council to sign a ceremonial letter expressing their support for the fire chiefs in a battle of political will with the Forest Service. While the chiefs wore the brass, it was former county supervisor — and longtime rancher — Willy Chamberlin who held the floor, urging the councilmembers to hang tough and “not weaken.” Chamberlin introduced himself as a “self-appointed bird dog” when it came to air-tanker readiness, but his remarks to the council were relatively tame compared to comments he made in the hallways outside the council chambers. There, Chamberlin blistered the Forest Service for downgrading the status of the Santa Maria Air Tanker Base in 2009. Not only has the loss of a full-service base cost the federal government money, he said, it put county residents at greater peril in the face of wildland fires. Had the tanker base remained at full service, Chamberlin insisted that the Jesusita Fire of 2009 — which destroyed 80 homes — might well have been contained early on. “I’m not saying it would have stopped that fire,” Chamberlin said, “but it would most definitely have been a very different fire.” The chiefs, standing next to him, nodded in assent.

Thanks go out to Dick

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Fire Chiefs pressure USFS to reopen Santa Maria air tanker base”

  1. If only those Fire Chiefs knew how dysfunctional the Forest Service has become… and it’s getting worse each day.

    Never thought I’d ever go to a fire and see ADFMOs (Battalion Chiefs) as Division Supervisor Trainees or Strike Team Leader Trainees.

    While they (local Fire Chiefs) concentrate on the air issue, certain Regional Foresters and Forest Supervisors are systematically (piece by piece) dismantling the FIRE PROGRAM from the ground up through “position elimination” and “reorganization”..

    It’s going to get ugly (uglier), and the Jesusita and Station fires are just the tip of the iceberg in mismanagement by folks with NO FIRE EXPERIENCE supervising a complex fire program.


  2. Maybe these city and county officials should operate and own thier own tankers and tanker bases. Why should the federal government be used on the county fires? The Forest Service is here to protect federal land, not every inch of the country.


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