Tanker crew moves to Stead from Minden
Nevada Appeal News Service
Noting that the move would add less than five minutes to the flight-time response for Carson City, the Bureau of Land Management is removing its air tanker support staff from Minden-Tahoe Airport to Stead, an official said Friday.
BLM Public Information Officer Mark Struble acknowledged that the decision to consolidate heavy tanker operations in Stead would be unpopular in Douglas County.
“It was a tough decision, but we honestly think Stead has a lot going for it. It has more airstrips, and is easier to fly out of. The time to places like South Lake Tahoe isn’t that different,” he said.
Struble said Western Nevada would be covered by Stead and Grass Valley, both with average flight times of 20 minutes.
The BLM will continue to staff the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center at Minden-Tahoe Airport. The Nevada Division of Forestry will continue to operate two firefighting helicopters from the base.
“There are a lot of resources around here that we’re protecting,” Struble said. “But the equipment has changed so much over the years, so the needs and the services need to change.”
Struble said the number of heavy tankers has dropped during the past 20 years from 48 to 18 and the need for the heavy tanker bases has decreased.
The increased use of single-engine air tankers has eliminated the need for large bases, where aircraft must be refueled and refilled with fire retardant.
The air tanker base in Minden has four staff members during wildfire season. Those workers will be used at Stead or work with the smaller tankers.
The BLM primarily uses single engine air tankers in Nevada and eastern California. The U.S. Forest Service operates the contracts with the heavy tankers.
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Supervisor Ed Monnig said the BLM’s decision matches Forest Service efforts to consolidate their bases across the West.
“By consolidating all of our heavy air tanker support at Stead and supplementing this base with highly mobile smaller tankers across western Nevada, I believe Forest Service firefighting efforts will continue to be effectively supported in a way that makes best use of scarce resources,” Monnig said.
Struble said federal officials have been discussing consolidating the heavy tanker bases since a series of crashes grounded the fleet in 2004.
Estimates of the cost savings have ranged around $100,000 per base.
Fire agency chiefs within the basin are reviewing the BLM policy changes. Though the response time is factored in, some South Shore fire officials said the change shouldn’t be detrimental.
“There will always be a concern if you’re increasing the delivery time of resources. However, they have structured this efficiently and I support their decision and appreciate the fact that they are maintaining air support coverage in Northern Nevada,” said Tahoe-Douglas Fire Chief Guy LeFever.