Plans to expand the air tanker base at Santa Maria Public Airport announced Wednesday will allow the facility to reload two DC-10 retardant-dropping aircraft at the same time, improving firefighting capabilities for the Western United States.

An additional long-term fire retardant reloading point, known as Pit 4, will be created for the U.S. Forest Service Air Attack Base at the airport, said Chris Hastert, general manager for the Santa Maria Airport District.

“While Pit 4 is currently comprised of new, temporary equipment, plans are in place to install a permanent fire retardant mixing [and] loading facility, which will increase capacity, allow greater efficiency and ensure that we can accommodate simultaneously more than one of the largest aircraft in the Forest Service fleet, the DC-10,” Hastert said.

Officials didn’t say when the expansion would begin, how much it would cost, who would pay for it or when it might be completed. Hastert didn’t respond to requests for more information by Thursday afternoon.

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