Cal Fire Air Attack Gearing up for Fire Season

This year Cal Fire has a new mapping system on the aircraft that will allow for better communication between the spotter plane and the people on the ground.

Posted: May. 14, 2018 7:31 AM

Chico, Calif.-- As the green grass turns to gold and the weather gets warmer - firefighters start to prepare for the unpredictable season ahead.

The Chico Airport is home to Cal Fire's Air Attack base and they have in storage 75,000 gallons of retardant ready to go for fire season.

As things begin to heat up, Cal Fire designates a spotter plan and air tanker to the base - capable of carrying up to 1000 gallons of retardant.

If things get really, bad, they bring in the big guns - like a type 1 helicopter - a literal sky-crane.

And though they're based on the North end of Chico, the base provides service to a vast region of northern California.

"Cal Fire staffs their air attack bases to be on a 20 minute time frame- what we want to do is be able to get to a fire quickly, in 20 minutes and put the retardant on or direct water from helicopters, backed up from ground crews to be able to efficiently and effectively keep that fire small," said Battalion Chief Shem Hawkins.

Last year a 747 global super-tanker was staffed on contract down at Mclellan and it's available to be used in the North State if needed - though it's just too big and heavy to land at the shorter runways at the Chico Airport.

But for day-to-day use over Summer? The S-2 is the best air tanker that Cal Fire keeps on stand by out of the Chico base.

When a wildfire strikes, the base will staff 7 people day-to-day with 3 firefighters continually loading the aircrafts.

The planes land for 5 minutes, load up and head back out.

After the tragic challenges that firefighters across the Western U.S. faced last year, they're implementing a few new tactics and tools.

This year they have a new mapping system on the aircraft that will allow for better communication between the spotter plane and the people on the ground.

"We're hoping to be able to work closer with the ground using the new system. unfortunately, firefighting comes down to dirty work most of the time, so that's what's really going to put the fires out and that's why we have such great firefighters working in conjunction with our aircraft," said Hawkins.

Capacity-wise they can put out about 100 thousand gallons of retardant a day - that's enough to cover fires that would impact the regions around Oroville and Chico.

Each tanker plane can drop enough to cover several hundred yards before re-filling.

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