Firefighters rely heavily on aircraft to battle SCU Lightning Complex Fire on difficult terrain

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Here's how firefighters are battling Bay Area wildfires
As the SCU Lightning Complex Fire has turned into the second-largest wildfire in the state's history. ABC7 News was in Sunol to get a close look into how firefighters are relying on air resources to battle the flames.

SUNOL, Calif. (KGO) -- As the SCU Lightning Complex Fire has turned into the second-largest wildfire in the state's history. Firefighters are relying heavily on air support to contain it.

The wildfire has burned over 365,000 acres in seven different counties, including Alameda, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties.

CA WILDFIRES: What we know about LNU, CZU, SCU complex fires in Santa Cruz, Napa, Sonoma, San Mateo counties and beyond

Firefighters are exhausted, they've been working on the fire for more than 10 days now and the terrain is making it difficult to access. What's helping them are the air resources.

"Build a defense area and create a straight answer we can fire off to," said CAL FIRE firefighter, Devin Kilbred.

Kilbred is stationed in Sunol at the first fire-retardant base for the SCU Lightning Complex.

Every 5 to 10 minutes two helicopters refill their fire retardant tanks and make their way into the heart of the fire. The strategy is to drop the fire retardant ahead of the fire and create a defense line.

"About 2,000 gallons each trip a total so far in the past 5 days we've gone through 260,000 gallons. So, this is the winning strategy? Yes it helps the ground resources," said Kilbred.

RELATED: SCU Lightning Complex fire surpasses LNU Complex as 2nd largest in CA history

There are two fire retardant bases for this fire.

For many residents in the hills of Sunol, the sound of helicopters over their area means there is hope.

"That was all on fire. Mission Peak was on fire. The Maguire Peaks were also on fire," Sunol resident Doug Martin said.

"So you were basically surrounded by flames?" we asked.

"Yes we had it on all sides," Martin added.

VIDEO: Gilroy man displaced by SCU Lightning Complex fire has truck broken into at hotel

Lewis Britton's family was impacted by the Crews Fire in Gilroy in July and once again had to evacuate due to the SCU Lightning Complex Fires. This time he is facing new challenges while worrying about the safety of his home.

Martin has experienced firsthand the fury of these flames inch up to his home. He watched as small flames turned his living room view into an intimidating scene. He's evacuated three times in the last week.

"Yesterday was like the apocalypse or something," said Martin.

Firefighters have no time to waste. Martin caught a glimpse of a CAL FIRE helicopter refiling their water tanks with a pond surrounded by torched brush.

There are at least 13 homes three miles from the fire zone in Sunol. Martin says his neighbors created a network of communication to check on each other and prevent the blaze from getting closer.

"Everyone up here is aware of the danger. If you look here you see all the grass here has been mowed very short. Everyone here is very conscientious about building a defensible space," said Martin.

As of Tuesday morning, CAL FIRE says the wildfire is 25% contained.

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Get the latest updates and videos on the CZU, LNU and SCU Lightning Complex Fires here.