The first tankers on scene Tuesday were able to reload one time in Santa Maria before being diverted to Porterville, double the distance from the fire ground.
Tankers were allowed to reload in Santa Maria Wednesday.
It would be difficult to calculate if this apparent bureaucratic snafu contributed to the severity of the blaze but the question should not have to be asked. Adding a full hour to the turn around time had to have some effect. The extra strain on pilots and ground crews waiting for their drops is immeasurable, though they would never complain.
Considering Santa Maria bisects the ever burning Los Padres National Forest it begs the question, why wasn’t there a contract in place?
As it turns out last June Los Padres honchos stripped the Santa Maria Air Attack base from “full-time service” to standby or “call-when-needed” status in a budget draw down. According to The Santa Maria Times the decision to downgrade the status of Santa Maria was made by Pacific Southwest Region Forester Randy Moore and Los Padres Forest Supervisor Peggy Hernandez.
Los Padres National Forest officials who knew better warned that initial attack on local fires would be hampered. How right they were.
The Santa Maria Times reminds us that tankers flying from Santa Maria serviced the 2007 Zaca Fire and the Tea and Gap Fires more recently. During the Zaca Fire 1,700 drops were initiated from Santa Maria. 18 air tankers called the base home during the Zaca Fire.
Two positions were cut by Forest supervisors in the Santa Maria contract shake up. Those positions were not actually cut, but reassigned. All considered the cost of a couple of airport positions pales in comparison to the cost of potential life and property loss.
There may be positions within the fire service to cut but when it comes to rotary or fixed wing aircraft no expense should be spared. Ask the guys on the ground.