Official: Tanker base safe for now

It's premature to say Minden-Tahoe Airport's air tanker base would be moved to Reno Stead Airport by the next fire season because of budget cuts, said a Bureau of Land Management official.

"We understand the concern, but it's not a done deal," said Mark Struble, public affairs officer for the BLM.

The bureau's budget was cut 5 percent this year and will be reduced another 5-10 percent in 2007.

Struble said any action would take place after they know what will be on next year's budget.

"The budget is always a mystery," said Struble. "Congress and the administration put the budget forward and we'll find out about it sometime this winter. Budgets are hardly ever the same from year to year."

Wildfire protection services and all current capabilities stay in Minden this fire season. Minden-Tahoe Airport is still available as a tanker base.

"Minden is a filling station for big tankers for retardant or water," Struble said.

He said no tankers are stationed permanently in either Minden or Stead. Tankers are "national assets" and not assigned to any particular place.

"The tankers are like pieces on a chess board - they're moved to where they're needed," he said. "We don't own any in Minden."

Struble said the outlook is for a late fire season here because of the amount of snow at higher elevations.

"All the grass matures and dies in 6-8 weeks," he said. "But if we have lightning in July and August, that's a lot of fuel."

The fire danger is up in New Mexico, central Colorado, the gulf coast and a fire is currently burning in Florida.

"Tankers go where they're needed," said Struble. "They're already down working on the fires."


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