Cal Fire adds helicopter bases for quick turnarounds


FRESNO, California (KGPE) – In Auberry, an area turned into a helibase, reserved for helicopters to quickly come in and out to pick up water or retardant so they don’t have to go all the way back to the airport.

Depending on the type of helicopter, up to 2,500 gallons of water or retardant can be carried to the fire.  The new helibase cuts 30 minutes off travel time to replenish fuel or retardant at Fresno airport.

“So, most of the helicopters will be able to fly anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours depending on the altitude and also the temperature…so it varies,” Matt Hill, the air operations branch director from the Cal Fire Incident Management, Team 1.

Base commanders say the air drops make the ground attack possible.

“So, the helicopters are key to supporting the crews on the ground.  When we can, we can cool down the fire with the water drops and also the retardant and so the ground troops can get in and fight the fire, engage in the fire and then also what we can do to support the ground troops is give them recon.”

Clearer skies mean more sun, more heat and a possible flare up on the ground.

“Unfortunately, that’s when the fire starts to increase–the fire activity, but that’s when we get better visibility.”

Calculating the danger to pilots and the rate of the fires spread means striking a delicate balance.

“Anytime there’s a concern with the pilots or the ground troops, we will make sure that they can set down and regroup and we’ll take a tactical pause if need be.”

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