WeatherFire Watch


Upgraded retardant reloading pit ready for wildfire season at the Santa Maria Air Tanker Base

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Posted at 5:29 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 16:12:05-04

The Santa Maria Air Tanker Base has upgraded its facility and officials there say it gives them the ability to provide even greater support during wildfire response.

"Absolutely, we are ready to go at a moment's notice. We've been up-staffing and plan on extending our hours to meet the need," said U.S. Forest Service Aviation Officer Brian Sexton.

The base loads up firefighting airplanes with fire retardant.

A newly installed fourth reloading pit on the east side of the runway serves as a dedicated station for the DC-10 tankers which can take up to 9,000 gallons of retardant. It takes about 16 minutes to fill one up.

The upgraded pit allows them to simultaneously load retardant into multiple air tankers. It also adds an extra 60,000 gallons of retardant on top of what they already have.

"You know, if there's something local that's closer you can bring in more stuff and not have to send them to places like Hollister or to Fox Field Lancaster or Fresno," said Air Tactical Group Supervisor Steve Zavala.

The base can accommodate up to 10 air tankers at once.

During the month of June, the base was active in supporting several fires on the Central Coast as well as throughout the state of California and most recently, the Lava Fire in Northern California.

"The month of June we have quite a bit of activity. We were roughly around 120,000 gallons that we have flown out of Santa Maria so far this year," Sexton said.

He says they have also brought on five additional air tankers on call-when-needed contracts that have increased their capacity nationally, as well as a couple of CL-415s known as "Super Scoopers" and six additional air attack platforms.