Before Cal Fire’s planes can take off to battle the latest fire, they need to fill up with fuel.
“This truck is real critical to keeping the tankers flying,” said Greg Owen, manager of the Ukiah Municipal Airport, referring to the truck the airport uses to not only hold 5,000 gallons of jet fuel, but to drive that fuel right up to the planes to fill them up.
With an 8,000-gallon storage tank as well as the truck, Owen said the airport can have up to 13,000 gallons of jet fuel on-hand, which may sound like a lot. But during a busy summer fire season, Owen said, “we can easily go through that in one day.”
With a delivery Monday, Owen said he had plenty of fuel Tuesday afternoon, but “something big could kick off, and they could empty us out pretty quick.”
Last week, with the Rocky Fire going full steam, Owen said he was having the fuel truck loaded every day.
This week, the demand for fuel had lessened a bit, because Cal Fire FAE Ryan Blume said the tankers were flying to Santa Rosa to fill up, since that airport was only 23 miles from the Jerusalem Fire, which erupted just south of the Rocky Fire.
“Ukiah is 38 miles away, so flying to Santa Rosa saves them time and fuel,” said Blume, explaining that the tankers often fill up with 800 gallons of fuel, twice a day.
What really guzzles the airport’s fuel, however, is when the helicopters come. Blume said when the National Guard is flying copters during an incident, it will send a truck that can hold 4,000 gallons to fill up at the airport.
“It’s amazing how fast our fuel can go,” Owen said. “But it’s hard to turn those sales down, because that 4,000 gallons means $21,000,” since a gallon of jet fuel sells for $5.05.
Last year, the airport sold about 220,000 gallons of jet fuel, though not all of that was to Cal Fire. For instance, Owen said about 40,000 to 50,000 gallons were sold to CALSTAR.
To make sure the airport has enough fuel on-hand for everyone who needs it, Owen said he hopes to buy more storage tanks, for both the jet fuel and the AVGAS, which much of the private planes run on.
“For times like these when the whole state’s burning up, it’s good to have extra fuel on hand,” said Owen, explaining that he wants to install a 12,000-gallon tank for AVGAS, and a 20,000-gallon tank for jet A fuel, meaning the airport could store up to 25,000 gallons.
The tanks are estimated to cost $200,000, which would come from the airport’s reserve fund. The project is listed in the city’s Capital Budget for next year, which the Ukiah City Council has yet to approve.