USA —Word that budget cuts will soon hit valley residents in fire prone areas right where they live.
CAL FIRE is closing the Air Attack base at the Fresno Airport. That’s where a tanker is based that drops fire retardant on wildfires, especially in areas that are hard to reach.
The cuts are part of CAL FIRE’s plan to cut $80-million from their budget.
They take effect July 1, 2012.
For 57 years, fire fighting planes have flown into the foothills and mountains out of Fresno.
But this summer that will change.
CAL FIRE is closing the base that’s home to a tanker and an attack plane that directs the tanker where to drop fire retardant.
“We did a very deliberative and thoughtful study to figure out which one would have the minimal impact statewide to our initial attack firefighting capability,” said Daniel Berlant with CAL FIRE.
Mountain communities like Yosemite Lakes near Coarsegold rely on those tankers to keep fire from their homes.
“Fires up here take off very, very fast and if no one’s there to take care of them, this place is just gonna go,” said Sherry Guest Baumbach who lives near Coarsegold.
The tanker from Fresno is moving to Porterville. In the future, if there’s a fire in Fresno County, CAL FIRE says it could take an extra ten minutes for the tanker to arrive.
In Madera County, a tanker may be sent from Tuolumne County to cover.
“It absolutely makes you nervous that we won’t get the quick response that we would have gotten out of Fresno,” said Beth Villanueva who lives near Coarsegold.
The cuts come at a time when we haven’t had much rain. The area is dry. And that could mean a very busy fire season.
“Even though we’ve had a few storm systems, conditions across the state have been very dry. That’s lead to an increase of fire activity throughout the state,” said Berlant.
The Air Attack base has seven employees. Two will be reassigned. The five others are seasonal employees and those positions will not be filled.
The state is imposing an additional $150 per year for each home that’s protected by CAL FIRE or state resources. Those are homes in rural areas. Those bills should start to arrive in mailboxes this summer, just as the fire fighting resources are reduced.