People here in SoCal are watching the news about a wildfire that is burning homes in the LA area. October is wildfire season here. Right now, we have “Santa Ana” winds blowing. A Santa Ana is when instead of moist winds blowing in from the ocean, the pattern shifts and extremely dry winds blow in from the desert towards the shore. The winds are very strong (right now, it’s up to gusts of 65mph). The winds dry out the vegetation and spread any fire with amazing speed. Currently, this is a fairly small fire, only about 4 square miles. But there’s a good chance other fires will break out. This time last year saw the gigantic fires that burned 1500 homes in the San Diego area.

When local firefighters are overwhelmed by the fires, they ask for help. There are two resources they really need. Manpower and helicopters. Hmmmm. Where’s a good source for those? The National Guard and the Army.

U.S. Army Cpl. Robert Anderson works to extinguish remnants of a wild fire near Roanoke, Va., Feb. 12, 2008. Anderson, from the Virginia Army National Guard's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, is one of approximately 60 Soldiers working with the Virginia Department of Forestry in the Roanoke area. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Mike Smith) (Released)
U.S. Army Cpl. Robert Anderson works to extinguish remnants of a wild fire near Roanoke, Va., Feb. 12, 2008. Anderson, from the Virginia Army National Guard

Now, the photo is from Virgina, but is the example still stands. In fact, I found photos of troops fighting fires in Virgina, New York, Florida, Washington and Montana, Idaho, and Colorado. I found a lot of photos of troops in the California fires, but I just happened to like this one above. And this one below.

NY Army National Guard UH-60 with a "Bambi Bucket" fighting wildfires
NY Army National Guard UH-60 with a

Hopefully, the current LA fires won’t spread too much. If they do, you can be sure the Army and National Guard will pitch in to help.

Bambi Bucket in action
Bambi Bucket in action

One other asset the Army/Guard team can provide that isn’t much commented on is logistics. The service can provide transportation for firefighters and move the equipment and supplies they need. It also has the communications that are needed to coordinate the huge number of assets brought to bear on any large fire.

8 thoughts on “Wildfire”

  1. I did some volunteer wildfire fighting here in Texas, and those helo drops of water buckets are very nice indeed. When you take an overloaded one-ton or mid 60s deuce and a half into the woods with one or two other guys and spread out with your puny little redlines and 100 gallons of water you feel pretty small. Seeing the helos dragging buckets around makes things seem quite a bit more knitted together. Better still, when the drop is on your (otherwise open, unsupported) flank and that heat goes away you feel a ton better about attacking to your front..

  2. I don’t think the military do firefighting here very often. This is a nation of wildfires and they tend to call in firefighters from other areas first, like the city or other states. Often we pay enormous money to hire aerial water droppers from the US.

  3. Aaron, in California, most of the departments do the same thing. But since we have a much greater population density, and a comparatively large number of troops and the transport assets for them, it is a lot easier for us to call out the military to help. Secondly, the National Guard in each state belongs to that state when they aren’t called to federal service, so they are right there. It is also a longstanding mission for the Guard to assist in disasters.

  4. By law, the state is required to use civilian resources first – they don’t want the military to compete unfairly (whatever that is) with civilian companies. The Cal Guard has a few helos with water buckets (I did a Liason Officer Course a few years ago, and they told us how many – I was surprised at how few there are). There are also interstate compacts that allow one state to get equipment from another state – California was one of the last to join the EMAC because we have a lot of resources and long felt that we would get stuff borrowed more then we would borrow from others. Nevada comes to mind – they are a small state and don’t have a lot of equipment, so the Cal Guard and the NV Guard work together on a regular basis, with Cal giving a lot more then it gets, but maybe not in proportion to what NV has to give.

    Your comment about the logistic tail is well taken. A C-130 equipped with the fire drop stuff has a ground crew of 30 to keep it flying and full of water and fuel. And the helos have to be checked out by an A&M guy at least every 100 hours of flight time (I think, it may be every 200 hours).

    The Marines and other regular services are also available resources, but again they are the last ones in and the first ones out.

    LA County has spent a fortune on fire fighting assets over the years – they even have their own hydrofoil to get to Catalina Island (although they had to borrow from the US Navy @ Camp Pendelton last year when they needed to move lots of stuff all at once). The helos you see in the news in LA are almost all LA County Fire – they got tired to not having assets available when they needed them and bought their own.

  5. http://aerounion.com/

    Aero Union are the go to people out here. When the Tx Dept of Ag has used up its helos (water buckets) and twin Cessnas (scene commanders) they call on these contractors. Tanker 25 was here at KABI all summer for outbreaks in the area. We got to see another P3 and even a P2 with jet pods (tanker 55, i think) this year.

  6. CalFires has an impressive fleet of tankers including S-2Ts, and uses OV-10s as scene commanders. And of course, they have the DC-10 tanker under exclusive contract through the end of next year. That’s a heck of a waterbomber.

    As Andrew mentioned, LAFD aslo has a very impressive fleet of helicopters for its own needs. In addition to a bunch of Hueys, they are the only civilian operator of S-70C Firehawks in the US. (I take that back, I just saw a private contractor has started operating them as well).

  7. Everytime I see those guys dropping the huge things of water on the fires I think of that one CSI episode where they found the dead scuba diver in the tree in the middle of a forest that had burned.

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