A Black Hawk helicopter lands at Santa Paula Airport Sunday morning bringing fire personnel and equipment to help fight fire along South Mountain and the Santa Clara riverbed.

Santa Paula Airport becomes home base for fire fighting helicopters

October 31, 2003
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesAt first, Santa Paula Airport was closed due to the Simi Fire that roared down South Mountain on Sunday morning igniting river bed arundo and briefly threatening an array of aircraft.But the airport remains closed: Although the threat of fire has passed, the airport has been converted into a base camp for nine fire fighting helicopters from throughout the state.“It’s been just awesome,” said Janice Dickenson on Monday as one of the helicopters took off with an enormous – close to 800 gallons - bucket of water to drop on the fires still raging in Simi and the San Fernando Valley.The helicopters are charged with dropping water on green areas ahead of the fire; the fixed-wing prop planes are the ones that release the pinkish fire retardant directly onto the flames.Santa Paula Airport has been home since Sunday to an array of helicopters: four are from the Ventura County Fire Department, one is from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, three are military Black Hawk helicopters and there is a private helicopter. The latter’s operator was frustrated for a time while he had to wait for federal authorities to finalize their inspection of his airbird before he could join the fire fight.In addition, fire engines and recreational vehicles – used for helicopter communications and support as well as living space – are parked at the airport with several vehicles spilling over into space at the Screaming Eagle.The helicopters are crewed by an eclectic bunch of pilots and support personnel including the California National Guard who are at the controls of the Black Hawks. The almost 20-member National Guard Army unit is based out of Los Alamitos and for some it was their first trip to Santa Paula.
“It’s an awfully pretty place and this is a great airport,” said a Guardsman as he started off for his helicopter on Monday. “. . .but, we’re too busy to enjoy it.”California Department of Forestry Fire Captain Jim Fuller is in charge of the operation and said that the with water nearby, the availability of fuel right off the runway and the airport’s proximity to fire areas makes Santa Paula Airport ideal for the operation.Wind and darkness can shut down air fire fighting operations as can the shifting location of the fires.With the Simi Fire now raging near Stevenson Ranch just northeast of Santa Paula in Los Angeles County and the Piru Fire continuing to burn north into forest area, the helicopters will be based at the airport until needed elsewhere.On Wednesday night it was quiet time as the helicopter crews and support unit enjoyed dinner at the Santa Paula Carrow’s, where the presence of the fire fighters delighted youngsters – and adults - at the restaurant.

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