A federal air tanker reload base at Santa Maria Airport, which allows immediate access to retardant in case of a wildfire, will be fully operational throughout next year’s declared fire season, Los Padres National Forest officials announced today.

U.S. Forest Service officials and the Association of Santa Barbara Fire Chiefs have been working on an agreement for months, and Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Michael Dyer said in October that a deal was near.

The new operational plans modify the retardant contract with the Forest Service to ensure appropriate staff will be at the airport throughout the fire season.

Additionally, as of Oct. 21, Los Padres National Forest Supervisor Peggy Hernandez has authorized on-site staffing through Nov. 15, the end of this year’s declared fire season.

Hernandez warned, however, that having access to air tankers doesn’t reduce the responsibility of property owners to create defensible space around homes and communities.  “We encourage all residents to be actively committed to prevention before a fire starts,” she said.

Summerland-Carpenteria Fire Chief Michael Mingee, who serves as president of the Association of Santa Barbara Fire Chiefs, said the agreement is “a great example of government agencies at all levels working in cooperation for the betterment of public safety.”

Posted – Santa Maria Times – Monday, November 7, 2011