State air support was grounded by dangerous winds, officials said

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Officials said today that state air support was ready Monday afternoon to join the fight against the Southern California firestorms, but the planes were grounded by dangerous winds. Although there was some flying early Monday, possibly just for reconnaissance, it wasn’t until Tuesday that most planes got in the air, because of the time needed to get them ready and bring them to Southern California, and because of serious wind conditions Monday that made flying dangerous.

Maj. Gen. William H. Wade, the adjutant general, California NationalGuard, said the Guard received ‘mission request’ Sunday afternoon for aircraft. Because of rules requiring crews to get sleep and also the time it took to prepare planes and assemble crews, the Guard had three ready to go at Los Alamitos by late morning Monday, and after fire managers arrived, could have launched them at 12:35 p.m. if not for the wind. The fourth came in and all four were ready to go at 3:43 p.m. Monday.


‘All four aircraft were ready to deploy, but unfortunately were still on hold because of high winds,’ Wade said. ...

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Ruben Grijalva emphasized that the state moved air resources starting Saturday from Northern to Southern California, in anticipation of what Santa Ana winds would bring. Eight planes were moved south of Fresno starting Saturday, and strike teams were predeployed. The state got commitment from the U.S. Forest Service for nine fixed-wing aircraft, and then the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection sent 13 of 23 air tankers to Southern California.

The planes are not necessarily crucial in the beginning, said Henry Renteria, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. ‘The primary responder to any fire is a fire engine,’ Renteria said. The air attack is to mitigate the fires and let the ground crews do their work. The ground crews determine what’s needed from the air.

Grijalva acknowledged that resources statewide were taxed, and that because of all the other work that had to be done on the ground, firefighters couldn’t necessarily have taken advantage of help from aircraft. ‘There’s no question they were taxed; they were engaged in a large number of other operations, saving lives and property. I still want to emphasize that we would have done more had the weather conditions allowed us to,’ Grijalva said.

‘When there is a cold start like this, this is not something that we are preparing for that we get advance warning that it is coming,’ Wade said.

-- Michael Rothfeld