Effective July 1, Cal Fire is closing up shop at Fresno's air-attack base and moving its air tanker to the South Valley. The closure is part of a budget cutting move and will save the state about $600,000. As a result, if a fire breaks out in the Central Valley the fire retardant dropping plane will be coming from other areas and may take a few more minutes to get here.
Air drops by those air tankers play a crucial role in fighting wildfires, dropping fire retardant from above in areas not easily accessible through other means. Many who live in our local foothills have seen them in action firsthand. "He swooped right down over the top of my house and there he was and we were grateful he was there," said Foothill resident Rick Paredes.
As part of the closure and consolidation, the air tanker based at Fresno's Air Attack Base will be moving to Porterville. The move will mean longer flight times, amounting to roughly 10 minutes from Porterville to Fresno. Other bases in Hollister and Columbia will also be used to cover the Central Valley.
The change comes at a time when residents are bracing for what could be a dangerous fire season due to a dry winter. Tollhouse resident Jim Weyand said the closure could put his neighbors in jeopardy by delaying firefighting efforts during the critical first half hour. Still, the move wasn't a total surprise. "It just seems to be a sign of the times. But yeah, everybody should be concerned about that because we live in an area that is prone to fires," said Weyand.
Cal Fire said the decision to close the base was made after careful consideration -- looking for the most minimal impact statewide.
While Cal Fire is pulling its operations out of Fresno, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service said they will continue to use the base in their firefighting efforts.