Since the staffing at the Santa Maria air tanker base 55 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, California was eliminated on March 19, 2009, which downgraded the staff to call when needed, several fire chiefs in the area have been campaigning to reinstate the full time positions at the base. At that time two key tanker base … Continue reading “Santa Maria air tanker base to reopen”
Since the staffing at the Santa Maria air tanker base 55 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, California was eliminated on March 19, 2009, which downgraded the staff to call when needed, several fire chiefs in the area have been campaigning to reinstate the full time positions at the base. At that time two key tanker base positions — fixed-wing base manager and assistant fixed-wing base manager — were eliminated as part of a reorganization of the Los Padres National Forest staff.
Today Peggy Hernandez, the Forest Supervisor announced that the appropriate staff will be on hand at Santa Maria from October 21 through November 15 of this year, and during next year’s declared fire season, to reload air tankers if there is a fire in the area.
The call when needed status meant that if there was a nearby fire on which air tankers were used, the aircraft had to fly to Paso Robles to reload with fire retardant, which is 58 miles north of Santa Maria. Without a full time staff, it can take several hours or perhaps much longer to round up personnel qualified and available to run the base at Santa Maria, and then the mechanical systems have to be put back into service. [Corrected to say Paso Robles instead of Porterville for the alternate base.]
Summerland-Carpenteria Fire Chief Michael Mingee, who serves as President of the Association of Santa Barbara Fire Chiefs, welcomed the announcement.
“This has been a great example of government agencies at all levels working in cooperation for the betterment of public safety,” Chief Mingee said.
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
by NICK WELSH
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.
The air tanker base that was down-graded earlier this year from a full-time base to a call when needed base is again seeing very heavy use as air tankers reload there while working on the La Brea fire 24 miles east of the base. In May during the Jesusita fire the Santa Maria air tanker … Continue reading “Santa Maria air tanker base gets heavy use again”
The air tanker base that was down-graded earlier this year from a full-time base to a call when needed base is again seeing very heavy use as air tankers reload there while working on the La Brea fire 24 miles east of the base. In May during the Jesusita fire the Santa Maria air tanker base set a new national record for the most fire retardant pumped in a single day–158,000 gallons, according to an article in the Santa Barbara Independent by Nick Welsh.
On Saturday, the first day of the La Brea fire, eight air tankers worked the fire. For Tuesday, ten air tankers have been requested, including four heavies, four S-2s, and one single engine air tanker. And, the 7,200-gallon Martin Mars will arrive in the area at noon today to work the fire and will be refilling its tanks by scooping water from Cachuma reservoir which is 24 miles south of the fire.
Five type 1 helicopters (three Aircranes, one S-61, and one Vertol 107) and at least four type 2 helicopters (all Bell 212s) are expected to be working the fire today.
HERE is a link to a video at KSBY about the air tanker base and the La Brea fire.
The air tanker base that the U.S. Forest Service recently downgraded to a part-time “call when needed” base set a new national record last Friday for the most fire retardant pumped in a single day–158,000 gallons, according to an article in the Santa Barbara Independent by Nick Welsh. Wildfire Today covered the issues surrounding the … Continue reading “Santa Maria air tanker base sets retardant-pumping record”
The air tanker base that the U.S. Forest Service recently downgraded to a part-time “call when needed” base set a new national record last Friday for the most fire retardant pumped in a single day–158,000 gallons, according to an article in the Santa Barbara Independent by Nick Welsh.
Wildfire Today covered the issues surrounding the downgrading of the base in an article on May 12, one on May 2, and another one April 10.
Except for reloading three air tankers, the base at Santa Maria, California was not used on the first day of the Jesusita fire after it was discovered that the U.S. Forest Service had not renewed the contract with the supplier of retardant. Since they could not use the closest base, Santa Maria, every time the tankers needed to reload they had to fly an additional 120 miles round trip to Porterville. This also required that they be refueled more frequently, lengthening their turn-around time.
The USFS usually has a contract in effect at the base from May 15 through November 15 and when the Jesusita fire started on May 6 they hadn’t gotten around to it yet. But even if the standard contract had been in place, it would not have been in effect the day the fire started. By the second day of the fire a new contract had been negotiated, effective on May 7, leading to the record-setting use of retardant.
Here is a brief excerpt from Mr. Welsh’s article.
Could the Little Baby Jesus Fire have been bottled up the first day with more drops? Who knows.
In hindsight, Santa Maria would have allowed more and quicker drops, and that undeniably helps. But those in the biz also insist that air tankers don’t put out fires. Instead, air tankers give fire crews the cover they need to put them out. Given the steepness and inaccessibility of the terrain where the fire started — and the conspicuous lack of escape routes — no commanders in their right mind would have allowed firefighters on the ground that first day. Besides, they note, Jesusita spread fewer than 100 acres in that time.
Regardless, the Forest Service contract department needs to figure out that fire season is a 365-day-a-year reality out here, and renew its contracts accordingly.
Amy Asman of the San Luis Obispo, CA NewTime has also written an article about the issue. Here is an excerpt:
…However, Andrew Madsen, public communications specialist for Los Padres National Forest, said [not using Santa Maria on the first day of the fire] didn’t impede the Forest Service’s ability to fight the fire.
“To link the burning fire with the base is Santa Maria is wrong,” Madsen said. “It’s completely inaccurate, and it’s incendiary to people who were victims of the fire.”
The Santa Maria firebase, he said, was “up and running” within the required amount of time, that is, the first 24 hours of the fire. Before that time period ended, the planes carrying fire retardant couldn’t have been used anyway, he explained, because the 100-acre fire was burning in a location inaccessible to on-ground firefighting forces.
“Air support must be used in conjunction with firefighting from the ground,” Madsen said. “Fire retardant drops must be followed immediately by fire fighting from the ground or else they’re moot.”
And after the first 24 hours, Madsen added, the planes still couldn’t be used because of high-speed winds.
“Thirty- to 40 mph winds will ground aircraft every single time,” he said. “Without the winds, that fire wouldn’t have done anything.”
When asked why the Forest Service didn’t have its contract finalized sooner, Madsen said: “Even if we did, it would have been set for [fire season] May 15 to Nov. 15, so we would have had to set up an emergency contract anyway.”
Still, some community members are using the glitch as an example of why the Santa Maria firebase should be restored to full-time status.
“It’s unfortunate what happened, but it validates the need and the ability of the Santa Maria firebase to support an initial fire attack,” Central Coast Jet Center’s Kunkle said.
It is time for the U.S. Forest Service to admit they made mistakes by downgrading the base and by not having the retardant contract in effect before May 15–then they can move on. Until they do, this debate will fester and they will continue to look like fools, having to constantly defend an undefendable position.
The staffing of the Santa Maria air tanker base in southern California, first covered HERE on Wildfire Today, has generated a lot of controversy. The U.S. Forest Service has issued statements and news releases, some of them confusing, saying they are going to cease staffing the base during fire season except on a call … Continue reading “Santa Maria air tanker base”
The staffing of the Santa Maria air tanker base in southern California, first covered HERE on Wildfire Today, has generated a lot of controversy. The U.S. Forest Service has issued statements and news releases, some of them confusing, saying they are going to cease staffing the base during fire season except on a call when needed basis. Their plans are to rely on CalFire’s Paso Robles air tanker base which is 58 air miles north of Santa Maria.
The Santa Maria Times has an article that provides more details HERE. [UPDATE 11-9-2011: The article has been removed]
The fire started 13 minutes after SCE re-energized power lines near the point of origin
UPDATED at 6:35 p.m. PDT November 2, 2019
The Ventura County Fire Department announced at 2:39 p.m. Saturday that all evacuation orders on the Maria Fire have been lifted.
More accurate mapping determined that the fire has burned 9,412 acres, which is a decrease from the 10,720-acre figure released earlier.
The number of structures burned has remained at three. That has not been broken down as to the type, such as outbuildings, homes, or commercial structures.
Saturday morning there were still 1,200 personnel assigned to the fire.
Crews from many different agencies are working hard to make areas safe for the public to return to. Fire weakens infrastructure and creates hazards that need to be addressed. Check out this video for more. pic.twitter.com/A2VdXvB9TF
We spotted the fire turning crosswind after departing SZP, this is at 6:16:29 pm, we texted people on the ground to call it in, as well as calling it in to PT Mugu approach over the radio. pic.twitter.com/wuRA56Dy5D
Friday afternoon the Maria Fire east of Ventura, California grew by another 2,000 acres on the west and north sides. The Ventura County Fire Department said a total of 10,720 acres have burned.
As the fire moved north into the Santa Clara river bottom on Friday live views from cameras on helicopters showed several structures burning, some of which appeared to be affiliated with ranching or farming. Horses freed by ranch hands were running from the fire.
The UPI reports that the fire, which started near mountaintop communication sites, may have been related to re-energized power lines.
Southern California Edison said that though it’s not sure what caused the Maria Fire, the company did re-energize its power lines in the vicinity about 13 minutes before it sparked. The company had previously cut off power to the area amid strong winds.
(Scroll down to see a tweet that has a photo of the fire shortly after it started.)
SCE power lines caused the huge fire across the valley from the Maria Fire, the Thomas Fire that in December, 2017 blackened 230,500 acres and destroyed 1,063 structures (see the map below). Two people were killed directly by the Thomas fire, one firefighter and a civilian, and 21 were killed later by flooding and mud flows off the vegetation-free mountains. Over 8,500 firefighters were mobilized to fight it, which is the largest mobilization of firefighters for combating any wildfire in California history. The cost of suppressing the fire was over $200 million.
Drones over the fire Friday at 3:19 a.m. and 4:05 a.m. shut down the water dropping activities of two night-flying helicopters, the LA Times reported. According to @VCscanner, Air Attack 51 reported one of the drones at about 3,000 feet, resulting in all firefighting aircraft having to shut down.
The Red Flag Warning has been extended through 6 p.m. Saturday due to very dry air with humidity levels from 2 to 8 percent, recovering only to 8 to 18 percent overnight. Daytime highs on Saturday and Sunday in the fire area are expected to be between 77 and 85 degrees. Northeast winds will persist through Saturday, with the Ventura County Mountains and Valleys experiencing 10-25 mph winds and gusts of 25-35 mph. Weaker but still present offshore winds will be present Saturday night through Sunday.
UPDATED at 12:15 p.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019
The wind on the north side of the Maria Fire has shifted. Instead of coming from the northeast it is now from the east at 10 mph gusting to 20, which is pushing the fire toward the river bottom south of Santa Paula. Additional firefighting resources are being dispatched to deal with the increased threat to structures.
Video from television helicopters has showed structures burning.
The Ventura County Fire Department reported at 12:10 p.m. Friday that the fire had burned 8,700 acres.