California: Brown Field is now an air tanker base

For the last couple of years San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob has criticised the U.S. Forest Service for not allowing the air tankers they hire under contract to use the Ramona Airport as an air tanker base. CAL FIRE usually has two of their S2T air tankers at the base and has reloaded at the base a BAe-146 that they have under contract from Neptune Aviation. But the USFS contends the runway, at 5,001 feet, is too short for a fully loaded large air tanker.

When the Border Fire was burning near Potrero in eastern San Diego County a couple of weeks ago just north of the US/Mexico border, some of the air tankers had to fly over Ramona on the way to the next closest tanker base, Hemet-Ryan, 80 miles north of the fire, about 50 miles past Ramona.

Brown Field map

As of Wednesday of this week there is an additional air tanker base in San Diego County — at Brown Field Municipal Airport, which is on the southeast side of the greater San Diego area 1.5 miles north of the US/Mexico border. It is 31 miles south of Ramona and has a 7,972-foot runway which according to information from the USFS “provides ample length to meet safe takeoff requirements for the size and weight of a Next Generation Air Tanker with a full payload”.

Brown Field has a portable unstaffed retardant base that is under contract until September 30, 2016. After that, according to Oliva Walker, a Public Information Office for the Cleveland National Forest, the equipment will only be positioned there when it is needed, on a Call When Needed basis. She said the facility will only be staffed with personnel to operate the equipment and fill air tankers when there is a going fire and air tankers are flying out of the airport.

The Cleveland National Forest also has a fairly new Type 1 Helibase 30 miles east of the outskirts of San Diego near Interstate 8 half a mile from Cameron Fire Station on Kitchen Creek Road.