GRASS VALLEY, Calif. June 1, 2019 – The ‘New Normal’ for California means the Grass Valley Air Attack Base (GVAAB) is starting earlier than in previous years. The base is fully operational starting today and until October 31st – unless fire season extends longer. CAL FIRE’s Air Attack 230 and Tanker 88 are available for reconnaissance, initial attack and extended operations, according to CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Jake Sjolund. Tanker 89 will come online on June 5th, pending final maintenance work. The air base is fully staffed, ready to deliver retardant, water and fuel.
The Tahoe National Forest will have Air Attack 17 stationed at the base starting June 15. Helicopter 514 will be at the White Cloud Helibase on Hwy 20. Final training and proficiency tests will be held in the next few days.
As luck would have it, as we were talking about the previous season, a call from NorthOps came in, dispatching Air Attack 230 to a fire out of the unit. They were eventually canceled en route.
A look back at the 2018 season
In 2018, the improved infrastructure allowed the crews to pump 285,303 gallons of retardant while responding to 362 fires. The 10-year average of retardant mixed and pumped during a fire season at Grass Valley Air Attack Base is 321,173 gallons. 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.
In 2018, Air Attack 230 – the “spotter” plane – responded to 152 fires. 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.
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In 2018, Air Tanker 88 responded to 180 fires and flew 185 hours, while Air Tanker 89 responded to 184 fires and flew 214 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 459,123-acre Mendocino Complex
Some of the notable local fires AA 230 and the tankers worked include the 1,120-acre North Fire on the Tahoe National Forest, the 150-acre Sliger Fire near Foresthill, the 16-acre Oak Fire in Alta Sierra, and of course the 153,336-acre Camp Fire in Butte County.
The S-2 fleet was acquired from the Department of Defense in 1996 for $1 per plane. Prior to that, between 1958 and 1975, the U.S. Navy put these planes to use as anti-submarine planes operating from carriers. That’s why the S-2s have foldable wings – a feature much appreciated at McCllellan’s hangars where the planes are stored and overhauled every winter season.