H-CENTRAL COAST

May 7, 2012 11:01 PM by Nikki Ibarra

Central Coast fire officials prepare for a busy fire season

As fire officials throughout the Central Coast prepare for an active fire season, the extended runway at the Santa Maria Public Airport will be getting a lot of use this summer.

About 1,700 feet were added to the already 6,700 feet runway. Tanker planes will be flown in during fire season, and filled with fire retardant.

During the Zaca Fire in the summer of 2007, 1,700 tanker flights were flown out of the airport.

"All of those fuels, in a few months will burn, and all it needs is ignition," said Jane Schmitz, Cal Fire, San Luis Obispo unit, fire captain.

Fuel is anything that's going to burn; like grass, trees and leaves. Even a wooden patio could be considered fuel. And the lack of rain we've had this year, has contributed to the lack of fuel moistures.

"They're available fuel from last year, the year before, and the year before, so we actually have quite a crop of grasses that are available to burn," added Schmitz.

With the runway addition at the Santa Maria Public Airport, firefighters expect they will have a quicker response time to the fires. During fire season, tanker planes fly in and out of the airport, to get re-stocked with fire retardant.

"There's been a lot of talk of what this coming fire season is going to be and, they expect it to be active mid, to late summer," said Jim Kunkle, president of Central Coast Jet Center.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department has been preparing for the possible active fire season for weeks. They said they monitor the fuel moisture level daily.

Right now, it's at about 75%; 60% is considered critical. And, in San Luis Obispo county, it's at about 84%.

Cal Fire, the San Luis Obispo unit, said people who live near brush should be aware of what's going on around them. They suggest you clean your yards.

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