Beating the Flames: Firefighting helicopter may be stationed in Truckee | SierraSun.com

Beating the Flames: Firefighting helicopter may be stationed in Truckee

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

AP PhotoA firefighting helicopter flies under a crimson sun filtered through smoke from the Angora Fire this past June. A similar type of aircraft will likely be based at Truckee-Tahoe Airport this summer for wildfires in the Truckee-Tahoe region

After last year’s devastating Angora Fire at South Lake Tahoe, questions were flying as to why firefighting aircraft weren’t based in the Truckee-North Tahoe area.

But now, a U.S. Forest Service-contracted helicopter may be calling Truckee-Tahoe Airport home for the next four years. The airport district board voted unanimously Thursday to make the airport home base for a large firefighting helicopter, such as a Chinook or Skycrane, starting this fire season.

“We think we are looking at a very active fire season,” said Staci Dickson, helicopter superintendent for the U.S. Forest Service.

Operated by a private company and contracted by the Forest Service, the helicopter would be used for carrying and dropping water or fire retardant, Dickson said.

With cooperative agreements in the area, Dickson said the helicopter could respond to local calls from other agencies, and would allow for faster response times than ever before.

“It would be much faster ” right now it takes between 15 and 20 minutes from Whitecloud,” a Forest Service station off Highway 20 near Nevada City, Dickson said.

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Calfire has an air attack plane used for spotting and coordinating efforts and two air tankers based out of Grass Valley, which can respond to the Truckee-Tahoe area in about 15 minutes, said Chief Brad Harris of Calfire’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit.

The Forest Service also has a tanker in Grass Valley, he said.

Calfire helicopters out of Tuolumne County can make it to the basin in 25 minutes, Harris said.

“I think it will benefit everyone,” Harris said. “Any additional resource will help keep fires smaller.”

While the aircraft would be based in Truckee, that doesn’t mean it will be there the whole summer, Dickson said, as it would be responding to fires across the country.

“It could be here half the summer, or it could be here for two weeks,” Dickson said. “I hope the community understands that this is a firefighting resource and it goes where the fires are.”

Beyond responding to fires, the helicopter wouldn’t be flying much, so noise issues would be minimal, said Michael Scott, assistant general manager for the airport.

“They’re not going to have to fly every day, only if they do a major repair and need to do a test flight,” Scott said.