When the Jones Fire broke out in the early morning hours of August 17th, CalFire was able to respond with small tankers in just a few minutes, thanks to the placement of the Grass Valley Air Attack Base established at the Nevada County Airport, making it possible for firefighters to get a relatively quick handle on the fast moving, difficult to reach event. This is just one recent instance of countless instances that make our local airport a vital asset and one that we should not take for granted.
First established in 1933 by Errol McBoyle for the purpose of transporting gold from the Idaho-Maryland Mine to San Francisco, the airport was purchased from the McBoyle estate by Charles Litton in 1956, then was gifted to the county by the Litton family in 1957, which is about the same time the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection set a base there in order to afford quick response with small air tankers.
CalFire Battalion Chief David Krussow said the air attack base was one of the first in the state, opening in 1958 as part of a network. The overall plan of CalFire is to have an air tanker within 20 minutes of any area of responsibility. The air attack base at the Nevada County Airport is ideally situated because it is in the foothills in an area of high fire danger that breeches many of our canyons. The concept is using smaller more maneuverable air tankers out of smaller air bases with support from large tankers out of big air bases in the valley. The value of having the base here has been proven many times.
Krussow said without the base being located at the airport, firefighters would come from Chico, but the availability of resources would be at risk. For example, when the Jones Fire broke, many other lightning strikes caused multiple fires to break out up and down the north state. Rather than an immediate response, the Jones Fire would have had to wait for Chico personnel and availability of air tankers. There is little question it would have been a significantly larger fire.
In addition to CalFire, several air aviation businesses have set up to provide services to aircraft owners, others use the airport to commute to work out of the area and still others use the facility for recreational flight. Several secondary businesses contribute to the tax base through their operation. In addition, companies such as PG&E contract with helicopter companies to fly power lines before restoring power. The Nevada County Airport is funded by the Federal Aviation Administration through grants for continued improvement and safety but depends on fuel sales to cover operational expenses.
As the manager of the airport, I feel it is vital for the community to continue to support operations taking place here. One of the priorities of the airport is to ensure the safety of all flight operations and to provide CalFire with everything they need to expand operations, for example, with helicopter pads. Helicopters are being utilized more frequently because of their size and maneuverability. Saying yes to infrastructure improvements will equate to increased overall fire safety.
With proposed housing developments in the flight path of the airport, there needs to be an understanding and awareness that residents may occasionally experience noise from the airport especially during fire season, but that the noise and increased air traffic are a small price to pay for the greater safety and comfort that comes with having the air attack base in our backyard. Giving up a little bit of forest and putting up with a little bit of noise equates to a lot of public safety. The next time you look up to see a CalFire spotter plane circling above or an air tanker heading out to help mitigate an incident, know our local airport has a large hand in keeping the area relatively fire safe and appreciates our community support.