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Behind the scenes look at air tanker prep efforts at the Santa Maria Airport

Air tankers sm prep
Nathalie Vera/
Air tankers fill up on gas and fire retardant at the Santa Maria airport to provide aerial support at the Maria Fire in Santa Paula.

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - It's all hands on deck at the Central Coast Jet Center at the Santa Maria Airport. On Friday, air tankers were filling up on fuel and fire retardant to battle the Maria Fire near Santa Paula.

“We have about 50,000 gallons of retardant that's mixed," said Chris Kunkle, VP of Operations at the Central Coast Jet Center. “And we have about five large air tankers.”

The center has been the go-to spot for air tankers on Friday.

“We provide all the fuel, if there's any kind of ground support equipment they need, generators or anything like that," said Kunkle. 

New this week is a temporary portable retardant mixer, which is an addition to another mixer already in use at the airport. 

“The Forest Service steps up, brings a portable in, and it totally doubles our productivity out of Santa Maria," the VP of operations said. 

The aircrafts are typically fueled for about two to three hours of firefighting efforts, carrying close to 10,000 gallons of fire retardant.

One aerial firefighting captain says his team was deployed to the Maria fire at 7 a.m. 

"We're working the northern flank of the fire and it's working its way down the structure," said Ryan Curl. "So we're trying to get a line in conjunction with the folks in the ground between the structures and the fire.”

He says this particular fire has been challenging because of its steep terrain, and its proximity to homes.

“Any time we're working in close proximity to houses or where there's a lot of folks on the ground, we really have to be careful on where we're dropping the retardant," the Idaho native said. 

"We take passion, and we have a lot of pride in making this a real efficient operation here in Santa Maria," Kunkle said.

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Nathalie Vera


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