By Miriam Raftery
July 9, 2016 (Otay)—Effective immediately, the U.S. Forest Service has authorized its Next Generation firefighting air tankers to operate at Brown Field in Otay Mesa near the border during times of elevated wildfire risk.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob called the announcement “a step forward” but added, “They don't go far enough. Ramona Air Attack Base, in the heart of wildfire country, still makes the most sense.” She noted the high risk of wildfire in Ramona, site of the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire and the2007 firestorms.
The change comes after Supervisor Jacob and other local officials repeatedly called on the USFS to allow its air tankers to take off and land at the Ramona Air Base, as Cal Fire already does. During the Border Fire in late June, Jacob sharply criticized the USFS for flying in tankers from San Bernadino to battle the blaze, contending the long distance was too far when every second counts to stop a wildfire.
The Border Fire killed two Potrero residents and destroyed 5 homes as well as 11 outbuildings, charring 7,000 acres.
T he USFS has contended that Ramona’s 5,001-foot landing strip is too short. Brown Field, by contrast, has a 7,972 ft. runway.
Jeff Power, regional aviation officer with the USFS, says the Brown Field option is the “best alternative to reduce risk to flight crews and the community while providing the same response time and air tanker capability.”
While the response times may be comparable to reach the border communities scorched by the Border Fire in Potrero, Campo and Lake Morena, however, the response times from Brown Field to mountain areas such as Ramona, Cuyamaca and Julian will still be longer than if the tankers were based in Ramona.
The city of San Diego reached a deal with Cleveland National Forest, part of the USFS, to allow use of the Brown Field for the federal air tankers whenever fire preparedness reach a 3 or higher, on a 1 to 5 scale.
On Supervisor Jacob’s Facebook page, her constituents praised her efforts.
Carolynne Proffer wrote, “The U.S.Forest service needs to listen before, God forbid, another fire that kills people, animals and destroys lives and our countryside!!! Go get em' Dianne!”
Christine Connell likened most politicians to “despair,” then alluded to a wishful-thinking solution to voters dismayed at losing Jacob’s representation soon due to term limits. “I read Dianne's reports and rejoice,” Connell concluded, then queried, “How tricky is cloning??”