SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. -- Air tankers were finally able to takeoff from the Santa Maria Airport Tuesday afternoon and provide much needed support on the firefighting effort to battle the fast-growing Alisal Fire.
Two BAe 146 tankers took off around 2:40 p.m., nearly 24 hours after the fire ignited in the mountains between the Gaviota Coast and the Santa Ynez Valley.
During the late afternoon, seven planes were taking part in the firefighting effort. In addition to two BAe-146 planes that were already pre-positioned at the base, two other BAe's also arrived, plus two MD-80's and one DC-10.
Due to the close proximity of the fire, tankers are able to take off, unload retardant and return to the tanker base to refill within 25 minutes.
Turbulent windy indy conditions had kept all air support on the ground until Tuesday morning.
While helicopters were able to join in the effort during the morning, persistent wind kept air tankers parked.
"Conditions over the fire are rather challenging," said Alex Ihle, Los Padres National Forest Air Tactical Group Supervisor late Tuesday morning. "We are experiencing high winds out of the north, northwest, which are really limiting the amount of work we can do in terms of aviation assets."
Throughout the morning, the Santa Maria Air Tanker Base has been quiet. Firefighting aircraft was positioned and ready to fly, but remained still until weather conditions improved.
"The conditions were probably the worst that I've actually seen in a long time," said air tanker pilot Andrew Gaumer, who flew above the blaze soon after it started on Monday. "We had 40, 50 mile an hour winds on the top of the ridge where the fire started and trying to fly in there and get down was incredibly rough and not a safe environment to be even trying to get some retardant on the ground."
The Alisal Fire, which began Monday afternoon, has burned more than 8,000 acres and is 0% contained.
The fire is burning in an area north of Santa Barbara and south of Gaviota, along Highway 101 and up into the mountains.