The Pilots Who Fight California’s Wildfires

I quite accidentally ran across an article in Air & Space Magazine which dovetails nicely with the two articles I wrote for Voices of Monterey Bay and which I featured yesterday. It is a very comprehensive article, so I downloaded all 17 pages. It also fits in with my interest in both aviation and firefighting. For those who share similar interests, I give you an introduction below.

There are days here when you walk outside and just know. Step on a stick and it snaps. Grass crunches underfoot. It’s hot, and the relative humidity is down in the single digits. If there’s a fire that day, Cal Fire battalion chief Justin McGough says, “You just know it’s going to burn very, very well.”

But today is not that day, as I step one winter morning onto Cal Fire’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in Hemet, California. To the east, Mount San Jacinto is topped with fresh snow, and ample rainfall has relieved most of the state’s drought. Here at Hemet-Ryan, which remains open year-round, firefighting aircraft out on the ramp mark time quietly in the sun.

Cal Fire—the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection—is a state agency responsible for fire control across 31 million acres of timberland, brush, and urban forest. With 50 aircraft at 23 bases around the state, it has the largest firefighting air force in the world. Hemet-Ryan hosts a little of everything in Cal Fire’s standard contingent: a Bell UH-1H Super Huey helicopter, two Grumman S-2T tankers, and a North American Aviation OV-10A tactical observation aircraft. Crews at Hemet dispatch to fires from the San Bernardino mountains, near Los Angeles, all the way south to the Mexican border.
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One thought on “The Pilots Who Fight California’s Wildfires

  1. Love this! Here in Hollister, the CDF fleet is two miles north at the airport. Just yesterday I was watching three of the smaller twin engine craft headed south. Thanks for posting.

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