The effort behind fighting wildland fires does not just stem from the ground. Those in the sky play a crucial role in fighting wildfires.
On Monday, 12 vegetation fires broke out on the Central Coast, two of which got support from the air.
“Every fire is different. As the season changes and fuel moistures change, the fires move faster as things dry out. When it’s a little bit wetter, things move a little slower,” said pilot Dane Hackler.
Hackler is a contracted pilot for CAL FIRE. He is one of two pilots in San Luis Obispo County who fly the air tactical aircraft, or what many call the spotter plane.
“We coordinate with the ground crews, with the incident commander, and we try to follow his wishes to protect the people and the property of the State of California,” Hackler said.
While the ground crews put out flames, the flight crews are assessing just how large the fire is by mapping out its edges, so the team can make decisions about the resources needed. Then, the air tankers make retardant drops flying as low as 150 feet, according to CAL FIRE.
“What we do with the retardant is basically buy time. We circle the fire or box it in, allowing the ground troops to take action,” said Matt Mihalco, Fire Captain, Paso Robles Air Attack Base.
The air tankers hold 1,200 gallons of retardant. There are 23 air tankers across the state as part of CAL FIRE.
“These aircraft are available throughout the state for any fires that are on federal or state land,” Mihalco explained.
While there are only three aircraft used for fighting fires in San Luis Obispo County, it takes the work from the ground into the sky.
“I mainly just fly the airplane and I keep us up there and keep us safe, but we work as a crew together on certain tasks, but they’re pretty much the guys in charge,” Hackler said.
These resources are used for both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, but at any moment these aircraft could have to assist firefighting efforts in another part of the state.
According to CAL FIRE, the aircraft fly up to Sacramento for maintenance in December but return back to Paso Robles in April.