Our Future After the Fire: Preparing for wildfire season

Action News Now spoke with CAL FIRE about how they're preparing for this year's wildfire season.

Posted: Jun 20, 2019 6:26 PM
Updated: Jun 21, 2019 11:28 AM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - "There's gonna be fires we just don't know where they're at or where they're going to be at but it's gonna happen," Chico resident said.

CAL FIRE is on alert and ready for action. They are also keeping an eye on areas they say are at high risk for wildfire.

"[We are looking at] the footprints of fires from a couple years ago," said Rick Carhart, public information officer for CAL FIRE. "So within the last couple years we've had the Ponderosa fire, the Wall Fire, the Cherokee Fire the LaPorte Fire all happened in 2017." 

Carhart said fresh growth has exploded over those areas.

"And so they're drying out and very receptive to fire at this point," Carhart said.

Carhart said when a fire breaks out they send crews depending on the threat level: low, medium or high.

"Those are based on what we feel like the potential is and its also based on the manpower that we have the staffing that we have," Carhart said.

But staffing won't always save the day, like the morning of the Camp Fire.

"We could've had every one of our personnel and every one of our engines sitting at that - as close as we could get to the start of that fire - and it still would've gotten away," Carhart said. "There are just some things are of our control." 

Locals in the burn scar areas think that firefighters have done a good job. 

"I think the firefighters have done a great job they've got a hard job to do and this is a fire-prone area so we count on them to do that and we appreciate it," said a resident from Paradise. 

"I don't think that there's anything we could have done that could have averted that catastrophe," said Shem Hawkins is the Battalion Chief at the Air Attack Base in Chico. 

"My father was a chief with CAL FIRE so I understood the mentality of cal fire at a very young age. we've always been very aggressive at going after fires and if nothing else the Camp Fire has just reaffirmed in my mind just how important it is to get after fires," Hawkins said.

Hawkins said his team has a few new wildfire weapons on the way.

"Number one, our helicopters now carry about 324 gallons of water," Hawkins said. "The black hawk is gonna be able to carry about 1,000 gallons of water. So, in essence, we are going to be able to quadruple the amount of water that we're carrying over the top of the fire."

The new Black Hawk will be able to go out at night as well, something the current helicopters can't do now.

"At night what we've seen in the past is an increase in humidity [and a] decrease in temperatures," Hawkins said. "A lot of the benefits we're able to provide during the daytime for those ground troops are realized at night just from the natural occurrence of the sun going down but now we're going to be able to compound that." 

Hawkins said in a few years they're getting seven brand new c-130 aircraft.

"That'll be a huge impact for the citizens of California cause currently, our air tankers carry about 1,000 gallons of retardant and 1,200 gallons of retardant but those planes will be able to carry up to 4,000 gallons of retardant," Hawkins said. 

Hawkins said no matter the fire's size - when it breaks they're there.

"Every time that there's a vegetation fire in the north end of the county I know that I'm going so we make that jump and we get in the aircraft we get ready and we take off as quickly as possible," Hawkins said.

"Obviously knowing what happened last November they're more prepared I would think," said a Chico local. "And I thought they responded to it from perspective anyways did a great job but I think we can always do better." 

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