GRASS VALLEY, Calif. May 31, 2018 – The Grass Valley Air Attack Base (GVAAB) will be operational on Monday, June 4th. CAL FIRE’s Air Attack 230 and Tanker 88 will be available for reconnaissance, initial attack and extended operations, according to CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Jake Sjolund. Tanker 89 will be available a few days later, pending final maintenance work.
The air base itself will be fully staffed, ready to deliver retardant, water and fuel. The Tahoe National Forest will have Air Attack 17 stationed at the base starting tomorrow. Helicopter 514 will be at the White Cloud Helibase on Hwy 20. Final training and proficiency tests will be held next week.
In 2017, the improved infrastructure allowed the crews to pump 500,537 gallons of retardant while responding to 279 fires. Predictive Services issued a seasonal wildfire outlook that promises to keep the base very busy once more: “It is expected that fire activity will ramp up in June at lower elevations and east of the crest, and this represents an earlier start than normal by a few weeks. The Above Normal Large Fire Potential areas in June are the Far East Side, the foothills of the Sacramento Valley, and the Diablo portion of the eastern Bay Area. In July-August the Northeast California and Northern Sierra PSAs are added to the Above Normal areas due to the possible combination of dry fuels, a bit more wind, and occasional lightning events.”
2017 season was a busy one
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.
CAL FIRE stationed one air attack plane and two tankers on the base during last year’s 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.
In 2017, 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.
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.
The 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.