Helicopters Provided Vital Help in California Fires

These firefighters fly in conditions most other pilots would never attempt. LA Fire Dept.

Now that California’s Camp Fire in the northern portion of the state, the deadliest in the state’s history, has been smothered, authorities have begun looking not only at what’s left, but precisely how much was saved thanks to heroic efforts of fire fighters across the state.

Rotor & Wing International says "some, 9,000 firefighters, fixed wing aircraft, ground equipment and 45 helicopters" helped battle fires across the state. Among the aircraft used were Sikorsky S-70 Firehawks, UH-60A Utility Hawks, Boeing CH-47s, Bell UH-1s and Sikorsky Skycranes. The Camp Fire claimed at least 86 lives and incinerated 153,000 acres of land, including 19,000 buildings of which "14,000 were homes," according to the Wall Street Journal.

Thanks to the headcams worn by many firefighters, a number of videos highlighting the drama of the past three weeks have made their way to the Internet. In this one, a Cal Guard Blackhawk pilot captured a water drop in the Camp Fire

In a recorded rescue in Southern California’s Woolsey blaze (below), the pilot can be heard explaining the rescue flight is “rapidly becoming ugly,” as he flies through visibilities that appear to be low IFR. The flames in the area north of Malibu consumed some 97,000 acres.

About five minutes into the video, the helicopter crew demonstrates the close coordination necessary between team members in order to keep everyone safe during flight during incredibly dangerous conditions. “Remember fuel is critical,” the pilot reminds his co-pilot as the helicopter finally touches down to rescue two people and a dog, an event that quickly morphed into three people and two dogs, one a frightened English Mastiff that wasn’t all that keen on a helicopter flight.

The video points out just how close the helicopters were operating to the open flames of the blaze. With everyone safe on board, the co-pilot says, “That’s enough excitement for me today.” Me too. Awesome flying.

Rob MarkAuthor
Rob Mark is an award-winning journalist, business jet pilot, flight instructor, and blogger.

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