Aerial Support Key to Fighting Southern California Fires

As a resident of Agoura Hills, one of the communities evacuated as a result of the devastating Woolsey Fire, I was closely watching the progression of the fire as it quickly ravaged the hillsides surrounding our neighborhood. The fire flared up on Thursday afternoon and within less than 30 hours had burned through 70,000 acres, fueled by raging Santa Ana winds topping 50 mph.

The strong winds prevented aerial firefighters from attacking the flames. The only reason few homes in Oak Park, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Calabasas burned on Thursday and Friday was because of the heroic efforts of firefighters on the ground. I watched with my family in horror as the flames came right up against the streets of our home and that of friends in the neighborhood.

The fire spread from the edge of Simi Valley all the way to the beach, where owners of large livestock such as horses and llamas kept their animals away from the flames as there was no way to evacuate them in trailers. The smoke clouds over Malibu were eerily similar to those of a massive thunderstorm. It was hard to believe that the clouds were not created by moisture, but by smoke from flames burning the hillsides and multi-million-dollar homes along with them.

The winds finally settled enough on Friday that the fires could be attacked from the skies and firefighters got a good hold on the devastation. A variety of firefighting aircraft, such as Skycranes, Superscoopers, Cobras, and a massive DC-10 (above video), could be seen dropping their loads on the flames. The precision was impressive and, as a result, the fires were slowly brought in check.

However, Santa Ana winds kicked up once again on Sunday and Monday, stoking hot spots in the burned areas. By Monday afternoon, 91,000 acres and more than 370 homes had burned in the Woolsey Fire alone. Another fire in northern California, the Camp Fired, burned 11,300 acres along with more than 6,400 buildings, the most devastating loss of structures in California history. 42 people died in the Camp Fire and two lost their lives in the Woolsey Fire. Those numbers are likely to rise. But I can’t imagine how much more devastating the loss would have been without the outstanding firefighters and pilots risking their lives to keep our neighborhoods safe.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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