Air tankers from McClellan Airfield aid in fighting King fire

More aircraft can be seen flying over the Sacramento area this week as firefighting air tankers shuttle between their base at McClellan Airfield and the King fire in El Dorado County.

Lynne Tomalchoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said six large fixed-wing aircraft have been refueling and loading fire retardant at McClellan Airfield in the North Highlands area.

On Tuesday , she said, there were 23 reloads, with the tankers carrying a total of 187,761 gallons of fire retardant to the fire burning northeast of Pollock Pines in the Eldorado National Forest. As of late Wednesday afternoon, 35 reloads and transport of more than 150,000 gallons of retardant had occurred during the day, and the tankers were still flying. Tomalchoff said the aircraft can assist with firefighting operations until sunset.

Helicopters also were being used to make water drops on the fire. Tomalchoff said the helicopters usually are served by a “helitender,” a truck with a steel fuel tank that travels to an area near the fire where the helicopters can refuel. Unlike air tankers, which drop fire retardant, the helicopters pick up water from sources near the fire.

In addition to an increase in aircraft, some areas have seen increased smoke from the King fire. The El Dorado Air Quality Management District and El Dorado County Public Health Division warned of intermittent smoky conditions Wednesday, noting that such conditions can vary a great deal in the county, depending on terrain, wind direction and weather.

South Lake Tahoe officials reported that smoke from the fire was visible Wednesday on Lake Tahoe’s west shore.

“If you see or smell smoke, you should limit outdoor activity,” Dave Johnston, El Dorado County air pollution control officer, said in a written statement.

Christina Ragsdale, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, said agency staff members have been closely monitoring air quality in the Sacramento region and so far it has not been affected by the King fire. The vast majority of the smoke was going north, she said.

Although slightly elevated levels of particulate matter were recorded at some monitoring sites, she said, none of the readings was in the unhealthy range. The level at most locations was in the moderate range, which does not pose a problem for most people.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee