Officials say relocating firefighting aircraft during celebrity golf ‘normal’

Water Scoopers at Lake Tahoe Airport on June 23.
Provided/Lisa Herron/USFS

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Firefighting aircraft stationed at Lake Tahoe Airport were asked to temporarily find a new home as room was made for an influx of private jets bringing in celebrities for the American Century Championship, but officials say that won’t affect the ability to attack a fire in the basin.

Two super scoopers that were stationed at the airport a couple of weeks ago packed up late last week and relocated to their home base in Chico.

Super scoopers, along with many other aircraft, were part of the battle last summer to suppress the Caldor Fire.

“We have very limited area for aircraft,” said Interim Airport Manager Anush Nejad, who is also public works director for the city of South Lake Tahoe. “We do not have enough area for them to occupy but they are welcome back next week.”

Airplanes sit on the South Lake Tahoe airport tarmac on Wednesday, July 6.
Provided/Tracy Barbutes

The city in a statement said, “In coordination with the fixed base operator and the Forest Service, additional space was needed to accommodate the increased aircraft parking. All parties agreed to temporarily relocate the super scoopers.”

USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Fire Chief Carrie Thaler said the move is normal and won’t hamper the ability to attack blazes in the basin.

“This is standard and normal and doesn’t take away from our ability to fight fire,” Thaler said. “We reposition aircraft all the time and they are still available for response.”

Thaler mentioned there are other aircraft in the area that are ready if a fire sparks.

Tom Stokesberry, public affairs officer for the Forest Service’s Northern Operation Center, said the scoopers could fly from Chico back to Tahoe in about 20-30 minutes.

Nejad estimated that between 60-100 aircraft typically come in and depart in addition to staying overnight for the celebrity golf tournament. He said 30 aircraft arrived on Tuesday and 20 more arrived Wednesday morning.

The scoopers arrived about two weeks ago to much fanfare. Parents brought their kids and posed for photos next to the amphibious water scooping aircraft.

“They are crowd pleasers for sure,” Thaler said.

“Lots of people came out and took pictures with the planes,” Nejad said.

The scoopers were placed in Tahoe due to forecasted thunderstorms.

“The scoopers arrived in preparation for a lightning event in the forecast,” said LTBMU Public Information Officer Lisa Herron. “We’re always happy when they are here.”

The National Weather Service in Reno has a bit of smoke in the Tahoe forecast from the Electra Fire in Amador County, but otherwise no thunderstorms are expected in the next week or so.

The scoopers are national resources and are used to fight fires all over the country and may, or may not return. Thaler said that most recently the scoopers helped battle wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico.

Correction: this story has been updated with Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Fire Chief Carrie Thaler’s correct job title.

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