In October, the destructive force of wildfires was on full display in northern California. This week, southern California is feeling the wrath of these fire storms. Dry conditions, low relative humidity, and strong Santa Ana winds have provided the ingredients for another round of large, fast moving wildfires. And once again, CAL FIRE is on the front lines, battling the flames. CAL FIRE has been around since 1905, and through the years, has become one of the most respected fire fighting operations in the world. The men and women of Cal Fire, protect life, property, and natural resources with highly skilled ground tactics, along with air support from a fleet of aircraft.
Each year, CAL FIRE responds to more than 5,400 wildfires. Because of the department’s size and capabilities, it also answers calls for 450,000 other emergencies including structure fires, automobile accidents, medical aids, swift water rescues, civil disturbances, search and rescues, hazardous material spills, train wrecks, floods, and earthquakes. However, its reputation stems from a long history of putting down huge wildfires. They accomplish this with highly trained personnel, and high tech equipment.
CAL FIRE covers the state with 812 fire stations. The also use 12 air attack and 10 helitack bases. At the core of CAL FIRE’s resources, is a force of over 5,300 full time fire professionals, foresters, and administrative employees. There are also nearly 2,000 seasonal firefighters, and nearly 3,000 local volunteer firefighters. 3,500 California inmates are also utilized if needed. Those numbers are impressive. But equally impressive, is the amount of equipment used to move all of that firefighting power. CAL FIRE operates nearly 1,000 fire engines, 184 rescue squads, 63 paramedic units, 28 aerial ladder trucks, 59 bulldozers, 6 mobile communication centers, and 11 mobile kitchen units. Essentially, CAL FIRE employs an army of personnel and equipment on the ground.
But CAL FIRE also has a squadron of planes and helicopters to attack fires from above. There are 22 air tankers, 12 helicopters, and 17 air-tactical planes in the sky. Below is one of CAL FIRE’s air-tactical planes.
This Rockwell OV-10 plane flies with a crew of two, a contract pilot and the California Fire Air Tactical Group Supervisor. The Supervisor coordinates all aerial assets on a fire with the Incident Commander on the ground. The OV-10 also serves as a guide, leading firefighting air tankers through their intended flight path.
Air tankers load up with fire retardant at various airfields. The retardant is a slurry mix, consisting of a chemical salt compound, water, a thickening agent of clay or a gum, and a coloring agent. The S-2T can carry 1200 gallons of this mixture.
CAL FIRE also employs Super Huey helicopters for fast initial attack on wildfires. They can quickly deliver a nine-person fire crew wherever needed. They can also battle fires with water and/or foam drops. The copters are also used for medical evacuations. CAL FIRE helicopter crews have also been trained to do “short haul” rescues. These rescues involve a crew member being lowered from a hovering helicopter to an injured person below. Once hooked to a harness or basket, both the victim and crew member are then carried to safety.
The on-going wildfire situation in California poses major threats to life and property. The members of CAL FIRE are true heroes, putting their safety at risk to help others. California residents should be grateful for their service. And their efforts, skills, and bravery should be applauded. They’re doing extraordinary work, under very difficult circumstances.
For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Matt Monroe
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