News Release


DATE: March 12, 2013 

CONTACT: Steve Schmidt, 619-531-4766 or 619-206-9108 


Say sequestration-related move would jeopardize aerial firefighting in region

San Diego County supervisors, joined by state and local fire chiefs, on Tuesday protested a federal government plan to shutter the Ramona Airport air control traffic tower starting next month due to sequestration.


(Photo by Kevin Pack.)


They said the closure would jeopardize aerial firefighting in a region prone to wildfire. The East County airfield is the only facility in the area that can fully support Cal Fire tankers and other firefighting aircraft.

“Public safety is at stake,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, whose district includes Ramona. “If the federal government closes the tower next month, Cal Fire’s aerial capabilities would be put at risk.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has said the tower is set to possibly close April 7 due to self-imposed budget cuts mandated by sequestration.

“When the rainy season ends in San Diego County, the fire season begins,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts, who represents District 4. “The Ramona Airport control tower functions as an aerial fire fighting hub, protecting 1.7 million acres of backcountry. We don’t need federal political foolishness jeopardizing people’s lives and property.”

Joining Vice-Chairwoman Jacob and Roberts at a press conference held Tuesday in opposition to the tower closure were Dave Hanneman, chief of the Chula Vista Fire Department and president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs’ Association, and Ray Chaney, air operations division chief with Cal Fire.

“The Ramona airport is a critical asset for the fire departments in San Diego County,” said Chief Hanneman. “Many of the fires we encounter are in canyons or areas inaccessible with our ground forces and must be fought from the air. The Ramona Airport provides the needed support and coordination for an immediate offensive attack. Losing this resource will definitely hinder our capabilities.”

Earlier Tuesday, at the urging of Jacob and Roberts, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to formally oppose the tower’s closure.
The Cal Fire base responds to more than 400 calls a year. During major wildfires, up to 18 firefighting aircraft can operate out of Ramona. Their movements are coordinated by the control tower.

County and fire officials said that coordination at Ramona would end if the closure goes forward. Without controllers in the tower, no one would be available to perform vital air traffic functions, increasing the odds of a collision, they said.

The control tower was established after three people died in a 1995 aerial collision involving federal firefighting aircraft in the San Diego County backcountry.

The FAA accepted public feedback on the closure until Wednesday afternoon (March 13).