Upper Bidwell Park in Chico was teeming with activity Friday, but not for the reasons you would expect on a typical afternoon in July.
Like clockwork, helicopters sucked up water from Horseshoe Lake and nearby California Park Lake to help fight the Stoney Fire which broke out late Thursday night..
“And what the ground troops will do, is they'll call in a hot spot on the fire and say we need some water here in this area,” Cal Fire captain Joe Chavez said. “The helicopter will then turn around and can get that water to them very rapidly.”
Air crews don't' fly at night, and they typically launch at 10:45 in the morning.
But they were up in the air and dumping water on hotspots by 7AM.
“The ground crews have been doing it all by themselves without the air, which really hindered the progress,” Chavez said. “Once we were able to get the aircrews up in the air with us and help the ground crew, we were able to really get this fire under control.”
Chavez said they have one tanker which can hold up to three-thousand gallons of retardant and about three or four helicopters working the fire.
One of those helicopters is called an air crane and can hold more than 2,500 gallons per trip.
“That helicopter has a very short turnaround time,” Chavez said. “It carries a lot more water than just 300 gallons. So it enabled us to have a lot of water on the fire rapidly, which in turn has helped us with the fire fight.”
Steep inclines and rocky terrain made the fire fight challenging from the ground, so air support has been crucial to the success they've had so far.
“And it was really inaccessible for fire engines or dozers,” Chavez said. “It's all hand crew and fire engine crew work that's just in steep inaccessible terrain. And they'll be out there all day and all night putting that fire out.”
Chavez said their biggest ally during the fire fight was the wind.
He said it could have easily changed direction and made containment much more difficult.