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GRASS VALLEY, Calif. December 28, 2017 – With 500,537 gallons of retardant pumped while responding to 279 fires, the Grass Valley Air Attack Base (GVAAB) was busier than usual this year.
In May, CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Jake Sjolund gave us a tour of the upgraded infrastructure at the air base. New and additional pipes and pumps cut the reload time for air tankers from up to 7 minutes down to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Those improved reload times came in handy throughout the season as the base supported 8 air attacks, 13 state air tankers and 2 ASM (air tactical platforms.)
CAL FIRE stationed one air attack plane and two tankers on the base during fire season from May 26 to November 20. In 2017, Air Attack 230 – the “spotter” plane – responded to 178 fires (40 more fires than in 2016) and flew 280 hours (the 5-year flight hour average is 199.65 hours.) Having eyes in the sky is an important tool for firefighters, especially during the initial attack on a new incident. Sizing up a fire, identifying hazards to firefighters like power lines and directing tankers and helicopters a part of their day to day operations.
Air Tanker 88 responded to 142 fires and flew 179 hours, while Air Tanker 89 responded to 159 fires and flew 172 hours. Both planes are part of CAL FIRE’s S-2 fleet. The S-2Ts stationed at GVAAB can carry retardant loads of up to 1,200 gallons. Both tankers have a range of 500 miles when loaded, a wingspan of 73 feet and can operate continuously for 4.5 hours. The tankers are available to respond to fires outside their normal response area. For example, they were used during the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County after the threat from the Wind Complex was mitigated in their local response area.
The 10-year average of retardant mixed and pumped during a fire season at Grass Valley Air Attack Base is 372,767 gallons. In 2017, the total retardant pumped from base for fires only was 500,537 gallons, with 151,004 gallons deployed on fires in the base’s immediate response area in the Nevada Yuba Placer area. However, GVAAB responds to fires in an area extending from Lake Oroville to the north to Plymouth in the south and everything east of I-5 and west to the Nevada stateline.
Some of the notable local fires AA 230 and the tankers worked include the 392-acre Pleasant Fire in North San Juan, the 9,989-acre Cascade Fire near Oregon House, the 6,151-acre LaPorte Fire in Butte County, the 76-acre McCourtney Fire and the 821-acre Lobo Fire in Grass Valley.
Air Attack and the tankers will be back for another season in 2018 and we’ll continue to answer the question “I just heard the planes, where’s the fire?”