Since 1997, San Bernardino International Airport (SBD) has been home to the U.S. Forest Service Airtanker Base which serves as the backbone of aerial firefighting in Southern California. The Airport’s operational support is now more critical than ever. Wildfire activity has increased significantly in recent years and could continue to worsen, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Fighting these blazes takes a cooperative effort, and peak operations will bring an increase in specialized aircraft and firefighters from multiple agencies to SBD as they take to the skies, then return to refuel and reload.
CAL FIRE recently reported that California has experienced 700 more wildfires in 2021 and 103,000 more acres have burned compared to the same period last year. The agency added that hot, dry conditions could fuel continued increases in wildfire activity.
“Fighting the intense fires of recent years requires aircraft capable of delivering massive loads of water and fire retardant,” says Mark Gibbs, the Airport’s Director of Aviation. “During times of heightened fire activity, you may see a wide range of aircraft at SBD, including Very Large Airtankers carrying up to 12,000 gallons and firefighting helicopters which deliver up to 2,500 gallons with precision.”
In addition to supporting a high volume of aircraft battling multiple fires simultaneously, the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base recently hosted aerial wildland firefighting training. Participants in the certification training, which took place May 3–7, included the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other firefighting agencies.
The Airtanker Base encourages the public to come see the large, firefighting aircraft in action. A viewing area with bleachers is open each year during fire season, typically from May 29 to November 3. It is not unusual for several hundred people to gather outdoors at the facility to watch the airtankers as they load retardant and return to fight wildfires.