Fire season seemingly without end in the North State

Jan 14, 2014 5:37 PM

“Typically in the wintertime, Cal Fire is doing all their annual maintenance on all their aircraft,” said Garrett Sjolund, Chico Air Attack Base battalion chief.

But this isn't your typical winter. And instead of being worked on, the aircraft are just being worked.

Strong winds, high temperatures and low rain have made quite the flammable combination. And north state fire fighters are now working the offseason to help extinguish the challenges.

“Usually it’s green out here this time of year--but as you can see its not,” said Sjolund, pointing to a patch of dry brush. “That’s not normal for January; that’s September fuel moisture.”

This time of year, the Chico Air Attack Base is the only air attack base open in Northern California. And crews working here cover a lot ground.

“We're able to respond in 20-25 minutes from the Oregon border to Sacramento all the way to the ocean,” Sjolund said. “We're staffed as we would be normally in the summertime here.”

But it’s not even close to summertime; it’s the middle of January. And this staffing is not common by any means.

“I was speaking to the tanker pilot that was on duty today,” Sjolund said. “He’s been flying 42 years and this is the first time in January that he’s flown an air tanker on a fire.”

To give some perspective on just how unusual this fire season has been in 2013 crews used half-a-million gallons of fire retardant. And in just a few weeks this year, they’ve already used over 60,000 gallons.

This Chico Air Attack Base will stay open and help crews out in the field until there is enough rain to warrant a typical winter time closure.


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