CAL FIRE mega-choppers depart North Bay ahead of historically dangerous month for wildfires

ByCornell Barnard KGO logo
Monday, October 2, 2023
CAL FIRE choppers depart ahead of historically dangerous fire period
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CAL FIRE ended its contract for two giant firefighting choppers on the eve of what has historically been a dangerous month for wildfires.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- In the North Bay, it was recently the last day on duty for two major firefighting aircraft like no other. On Thursday, CAL FIRE ended its contract for two giant firefighting choppers on the eve of what has historically been a dangerous month for wildfires, October.

When it comes to battling wildfires, no other firefighting helicopter can beat the Sikorsky Sky-Crane.

"It's a great asset, especially with the capacity and turnaround times and getting to the fire from 'dip sites,' lots of lakes, rivers, ponds and streams," said CAL FIRE Chief Jake Serrano.

The mega-chopper stationed at the Santa Rosa CAL FIRE Air Attack base can carry more than 2,000 gallons of water and replenish its tanks under one minute.

Equally impressive is a military grade Chinook Helitanker based in Napa County. It can dump 2,800 gallons of water on a wildfire.

CAL FIRE says, this summer both choppers responded a combined 121 incidents, mostly vegetation fires.

MORE: Endless cycle of wildfires threatening gains on air pollution in CA, Stanford experts say

But now, the state's contract on both aircraft is ending for the season.

"This aircraft is on a 90-day contract, it's the end of the contract," said Jack Rupiper.

We asked why when October is historically a dangerous month for wildfires in the Bay Area.

"It's been fairly slow with the wet winter- we're still not out of the woods, but it's been a slower season," said Serrano.

The chief says there's been just one Red Flag Warning in Sonoma County this season.

CAL FIRE says it remains at peak staffing to fight wildfires with its 16 air bases in Northern California.

"We do have have air bases set up with air resources able to respond anywhere in within 20 minutes In the state," said Rupiper.

The mega-choppers may be soon be lifting off but CAL FIRE says, they'll return to the North Bay if they're needed this fall.

"We absolutely have the option to bring them back into contract," said Rupiper.

CAL FIRE can't say if the choppers will return to the base next season.

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