Air base too important to lose

One of the frightening prospects for rural residents is that
large parts of the county are so remote, the chance of a fire truck
arriving in time to save property from a brush or grass fire are
nil.
One of the frightening prospects for rural residents is that large parts of the county are so remote, the chance of a fire truck arriving in time to save property from a brush or grass fire are nil.

Likewise, standard trucks alone are never adequate in fighting the region’s toughest fires, as the weeklong blaze that took 3,100 acres and 36 homes west of Morgan Hill proved again.

It’s why the presence of the California Department of Forestry aerial tanker at Hollister Airport has always been a source of comfort.

That comfort may be short-lived.

The CDF is considering moving its seasonal base to the Central Valley because it can’t work out a lease arrangement with the City of Hollister, where delays already have cost the firefighting agency $3.4 million.

The CDF needs to build a new hanger and six loading zones for quicker turnaround time during emergencies. The state would foot the bill.

The city wants to up the rent from $15,600 a year to $92,000 a year, which CDF views as substantial.

Some airport board members believe the higher cost is justified. They don’t want to foot the bill for other communities that also benefit from having an air base nearby.

But San Benito County draws the immediate benefit of having an instant aerial assault for fires, like the one that threatened Kim Dupont’s hilltop home on Union Road last year. As flames sped up the hill toward her home, the air tanker dumped orange retardant and stopped it. Or the grass fire this summer next to Stuart Dickson’s organic farm in Panoche that threatened to spread across the valley. The air tanker arrived long before the Antelope Valley truck could have lumbered the 20 miles down Panoche Road.

In addition, the CDF planes buy fuel from the local airport vendor to the tune of $100,000 a year. They spent $150,000 alone fighting the Morgan Hill fire, including local lodging fees and food for air attack firefighters. The pilots, based her seasonally, rent homes, eat in restaurants and pump money into the local economy.

As easy as those dollar figures are to understand, they’re not the reason the city and all local officials should be doing all they can to keep the air tankers in Hollister.

For those reasons ask Dupont or Dickson.

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