Big air tankers can use Brown Field to fight fires
SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday that firefighting aircraft will be allowed to operate from Brown Field in Otay Mesa when San Diego County’s wildfire risk is elevated.
A deal between the Cleveland National Forest and city of San Diego allowing for use of the municipal airport near the Mexican border will go into effect Wednesday. The agreement at least partially addresses concerns by local officials that federally operated “next generation” aerial tankers have not been allowed to use the Ramona Airport.
“With the current fire danger threat and high temperature activity, we recognized a need to provide large air tankers to support wildfire suppression locally,” said Jeff Power, a regional aviation officer with the forest service. “We consider this to be the best alternative to reduce risk to flight crews and the community while providing the same response time and air tanker capability.”
San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob has led calls for the federal government to base firefighting aircraft at the Ramona Airport, where Cal Fire’s local aviation wing is based.
USFS officials have contended that the airport’s runway is too short when their latest planes are fully loaded.
According to the website AirNav.com, the runway in Ramona is 5,001 feet long, while Brown Field’s stretches 7,972 feet.
“It’s a step forward, but doesn’t go far enough,” Jacob told City News Service. “These tankers should be based as close to our high-risk areas as possible, and the Ramona area is as high-risk as they come.”
According to the USFS, aircraft would be sent to Brown Field if their fire preparedness level reached a 3. The levels range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.