Cal Fire pilots making several flights in Clayton Fire fight

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Much of the fight against the Clayton fire has been from the air. Exhausted pilots from the Cal Fire base in Santa Rosa are hoping to get a day to rest after fighting it all week. (KGO-TV)

Much of the fight against the Clayton Fire has been from the air. Exhausted pilots from the Cal Fire base in Santa Rosa are hoping to get a day to rest after fighting it all week.

There's little chance to take a breath between missions in the heat of fire season. If a fire call comes in, pilots are ready to be airborne in just four minutes. They are dispatched 300 times a year.

PHOTOS: Crews battle massive Clayton Fire in Lake County


Pilot Jerome Laval flew 25 trips into the Clayton Fire over the past few days in this air tanker. He flies solo and coordinates with his captain in a smaller command plane to drop retardant on the right spot.

"We are trying our best to save stuff. Some people trying their best to destroy stuff and that's pretty sad," Laval said.

VIDEO: Clayton Fire suspect enters no plea in court

Knowing an arsonist set the Clayton Fire was disturbing.

"We try to deal with the task at hand and that's is putting retardant on the fire, slowing it down and helping the ground folks get around it," said Cal Fire Air Attack commander Capt. Nick Welch.

One base in Santa Rosa pumped and dropped 80,000 gallons of retardant in a single day. The pilots say fighting a fire from above requires precise tactical choreography.

RELATED: I-TEAM: Clayton Fire suspect had training as a firefighter

And it's dangerous. Two years ago longtime pilot Geoffrey Craig from San Jose hunt crashed and died near Yosemite. Adding to the peril now are drones.

"For us, it puts us in danger. A collision between an airplane and a drone, we're not looking for that at all," Laval said.
RELATED: Lake County arson suspect's cousin 'doesn't really surprise me'

"Whenever we see a drone in a fire traffic area we're going to cease operations," Welch said.

There have been more than four incidents involving drones that grounded firefighting aircraft so far this year in California. With eight weeks of fire season ahead, Cal Fire wants the public to know you fly, we don't.

For full information on school closures, evacuation centers, and donation information, click here.

Click here for full coverage on the Clayton Fire and click here for full coverage on last year's Valley Fire.
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