Fallbrook Community Airpark Helps in Firefighting Effort

By Ben Sheldon
Friday, November 2nd, 2007.
Issue 44, Volume 11.

Aircrane Helicopter

Many Fallbrook residents may not be aware that Fallbrook?s General Aviation airpark played a vital role in the fight to save Fallbrook from the Rice Fire and continues to support the battle against the Poomacha Fire that threatens nearby Palomar Mountain.

On Saturday morning, October 27, North County Fire Protection District (NCFPD) Chief Bill Metcalf thanked all Helibase personnel temporarily positioned at Fallbrook?s airport for their tireless efforts which, he said, ?helped save the town of Fallbrook? from the Rice Fire in conjunction with ground-based firefighting efforts.

The Fallbrook Community Airpark was converted October 23 to the only Type 1 Incident Helibase in northern San Diego County. Type 1 means the largest and most powerful firefighting helicopters available in the country are stationed here.

Since the helibase opened, Fallbrook has been home to 12 of the most modern firefighting helicopters, including three enormous Type 1 water-dropping helicopters fighting the fires that directly threatened Fallbrook.

At 3 a.m. October 23, Silvertop Helibase Management Service, a highly experienced team from Redwood Valley, arrived and set up the specialized helibase at Fallbrook Airport. By daybreak they had coordinated and choreographed the movements of all helicopters to execute the firefighting strategy generated by CalFire each day.

The entire helibase operation requires more than 100 personnel, including pilots, mechanics, take-off and landing coordinators, radio operators, aircraft fuelers, ground-based firefighting crews and support personnel.

Many of the medium-sized helicopters are owned by the state, while others are privately owned and contracted for firefighting services. The Type 1 helicopters flew in from northern California, Oregon and Florida.

Every day began early at the helibase. Following inspections of the helicopters an informational briefing lead by Fred Imhoff and other key members was provided to the entire team. The briefing covered the latest information for the Rice and Poomacha fires delivered directly from CalFire, including freshly updated maps showing drop zones, helicopter assignments for the day, weather forecast, emergency procedures for ground crews, and a summary of activities from the previous day.

Following the briefing, team personnel proceeded with the day?s assignments and it was not long before the helibase officially went ?hot,? meaning the runway area was open for flight activities. Soon after and for the balance of the day, helicopters flowed consistently with purpose between the fires and Fallbrook Airpark.

Some area residents and businesses have demonstrated their support and appreciation to the heliport team in different ways. Some provided dozens of donuts each morning and cookies in the afternoon.

Some businesses owners, such as Tim White of Little Caesar?s, surprised the helibase team one day with enough pizzas and soft drinks to feed the entire crew for lunch (an alternative to the large brown bag lunches the team receives each day). In addition, one Fallbrook resident offered pilots the use of his personal car.

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